Dear Working Wise:
What questions are employers allowed to ask potential employees during a job interview? I was recently if I was planning on having children soon? I said “no”, but the question didn’t feel right. Am I overreacting? Signed, Concerned Young Professional
No, employers are not allowed to ask you when or if you’re planning to have children. Private information like that is protected under the Alberta Human Rights Act for businesses under provincial jurisdiction.
Some employers might not be well informed about this provincial legislation and may unknowingly ask inappropriate questions. You should prepare for this possibility so you’re not caught off guard in an interview.
Generally, any information that could intentionally or inadvertently be used to discriminate against you cannot be asked. Employers should only be asking you for information that is relevant to your ability to do the job.
Employers cannot ask about your:
· gender, marital status, family status, next of kin, marriage plans or child-care arrangements;
· source of income, unless it concerns your former employment;
· maiden name or name origin;
· age or date of birth, but they can ask if you meet the minimum age requirement for the job, if applicable;
· previous address, unless it meets a business purpose acceptable under the Act;
· birthplace or ancestry;
· height or weight
· sexual orientation;
· membership in organizations unrelated to your work, hobbies or interests that would indicate race, religious beliefs, ancestry or place of origin, etc., but employers can ask questions regarding membership in professional organizations related to the position, e.g. APEGGA for engineers;
· current or past health problems, Workers’ Compensation Board claims, or any absence due to stress or mental illness;
· citizenship or languages not required for the job;
· religious beliefs, customs and holidays that you observe; or
· military service outside Canada, unless there is an acceptable business-related purpose.
Employers can not request a photo, which could reveal factors such as race and gender, except in certain circumstances such as a modeling or entertainment position, where this may be acceptable. If an employer requires a photograph for business-related purposes, they can ask for it after an offer of employment has been made.
Employers can ask:
- if you can fulfill work-related requirements, such as working night shifts or lifting heavy items;
- for any previous names you have had if the information is needed to complete reference checks or verify your past employment or education; and
- if you are legally permitted to work in Alberta.
Three ways to handle inappropriate questions:
1. Write "not applicable" on the application form, politely refuse to answer the question, or tactfully let the employer know the question is inappropriate;
2. Answer the question and then discuss the underlying concern that has prompted the question. For example, an employer who inappropriately asks about your family plans might be wondering if you will be frequently absent. In this case you could address the underlying concern by talking about your excellent attendance record and your ability to do the job; or
3. Answer only the underlying concern.
However you choose to answer, be professional, diplomatic and honest.
After you are offered the job and accept it, the employer can ask you for information required for benefit coverage and for employment records.
If you have a question about a specific situation or think you might have a complaint, contact the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Alberta Human Rights Commission – Northern Regional Office
800 Standard Life Centre, 10405 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta T5J 4R7
Confidential Inquiry Line 780-427-7661, Fax: 780-427-6013
To call toll-free within Alberta, dial 310-0000 and then enter the area code and phone number.
Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Charles Strachey is a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. This article is for general information.
Photo by: ©iStockphoto.com/matzaball