Most employers have hiring practices that do not allow information about personal or group characteristics to interfere with their hiring decisions. Their decisions are based on a genuine assessment of your skills and abilities in relation to the job you are applying for. Their questioning is straight forward and relevant to the job and their decisions are not influenced by stereotypes or assumptions based on unrelated characteristics such as your race or your sex.
Not all employers follow a best practices approach and because there is no explicit indication that employers in B.C. are not allowed to ask questions related to specific grounds of discrimination, we’ve outlined some guidelines that help you distinguish between appropriate and not so appropriate lines of questioning. To lodge a complaint of discrimination in B.C. in this area, you must show that the question asked had a negative affect on the hiring decision. A few suggestions for dealing with inappropriate questions are included on page two.
Employers will want to know and should ask:
- About your ability to fulfill work-related requirements, which may include your ability to work night shifts, travel or lift heavy items,
- About previous or maiden names if required to complete reference checks or verify past employment or education,
- Whether you are legally permitted to work in B.C.
Generally, any information that could intentionally or inadvertently be used to discriminate against you or restrict your potential should be off-limits. Some specific examples follow:
- You may be asked if you have reached BC’s legal working age, i.e. are you over 16. However, you shouldn’t be asked directly about your age or your date of birth unless the job requires a minimum working age, such as when serving alcohol.
- Nothing more should be asked or revealed about your age prior to accepting a position.
- After you have accepted an offer, you may be asked about your age for enrollment in pension and benefits plans.
Race, Colour, Ancestry, Place of Origin
- You may be asked if you are legally entitled to work in Canada.
Employers may ask what languages you read and speak fluently if it’s related to the job you are applying for.
- You shouldn’t be asked questions that reveal anything more about your race, colour, or ancestry such as your birthplace or whether you are a Canadian citizen.
- After a job has been offered, you may be asked for documents that disclose your place of origin or race. For example, you may be asked for a birth certificate for enrolment in benefit plans or a photograph for security passes.
Marital and Family Status
- You may be asked if you are able to work the shifts and schedules required of the position. You may also be asked if you are able to travel if traveling is a requirement of the position. You may also be asked if you are willing to relocate if relocation is a requirement.
- If you can’t work the usual shifts or relocate, offer suggestions that could accommodate your needs.
- You shouldn’t be asked if you are single, married, divorced, engaged, separated, widowed or living common law.
- You shouldn’t be asked about your spouse and/or partner, children and/or dependents until after you’ve been offered the position. Then you may be asked to disclose certain information required for tax purposes, benefit and pension plans, or for other reasons such as notifying next of kin in case of emergencies.
Mental or Physical Disability
- You may be asked if you have any physical or mental disabilities affecting your ability to do the job or that you would like the employer to take into consideration when determining job placement.
- You should not be asked specific questions about present or previous health problems, WCB claims, or any absence due to stress or mental illness.
- In general, if your condition doesn’t affect you ability to do the job, there is no need to disclose it at this stage. If you do need an accommodation offer suggestions as to what would enable you to perform your job safely and efficiently.
- You may be asked to undergo a pre-employment medical, but you should only be asked to do so after an initial decision has been made that you otherwise meet the job requirements. In addition, the medical should be imposed on all applicants.
- You shouldn’t be asked anything about your religious beliefs, your religious affiliation, or your church membership including questions about what religious holidays and customs you observe.
- Employers can ask if you are able to work the shifts or hours required of a particular job, including whether you can work nights or shifts on Saturdays or Sundays.
- If you indicate the need for an adjustment to a work schedule for religious purposes, the employer should consider whether it’s possible to accommodate your request without incurring undue hardship.
Sex - Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
- You should not be asked questions about your sex, gender identity or your sexual orientation. You should also not be asked for information regarding pregnancy, childcare arrangements, or child bearing plans. This line of subtle questioning often implies the employer has assumptions about potential absences from the workplace.
- You also shouldn’t be asked questions about your political beliefs, unless it is bona fide such as when a political party is looking to fill a position that requires the individual to support the platform of a particular party.
Criminal or Summary Conviction
- If the job requires bonding, you may be asked if you are eligible to be bonded.
- If the job involves working with children, employers may ask if you can be approved to work with children.
- No general questions about criminal and/or arrest records should be asked unless there is a bona fide requirement to do so.
Exceptions and Exemptions
Exceptions always exist to general guidelines. Where an inquiry in based on a genuine requirement, inquiries related to a characteristic are allowed and considered reasonable. For example:
- Where a female actor is required to play a female role, an inquiry into sex would be reasonable.
- Where a male is required to work as an attendant in a men’s washroom, an inquiry into sex would be reasonable.
- Where a minimum age is a requirement to serve alcohol, an inquiry such as “are you 18” would be reasonable.
How to Respond to Inappropriate Questions
Because there is no explicit or clear indication that employers in B.C. are not allowed to ask questions related to your race, sex or any other protected ground, an outright refusal to answer such questions may not be your best option.
You can most certainly let the employer know the question is inappropriate or you may want to ask how the question relates to the position you’re applying for. For example if you’re applying for a job as a receptionist and you’re asked how many children you have, you can ask the employer how that information pertains to the position you’re applying for. Perhaps the underlying concern is around attendance. In this case we’d suggest highlighting your past attendance records and your ability to do the job as opposed to answering the direct question.