Illegal Interview Questions Hiring Managers Are Not Allowed to Ask and How to Handle Them

Illegal Interview Questions Hiring Managers Are Not Allowed to Ask and How to Handle Them

In the arena of preparing for job interviews, candidates brace themselves for plenty of questions uncovering their employability skills, experiences, and suitability for the role. However, when interviewing for a job, it’s important to be aware of illegal interview questions that cannot be asked in Australia. Now that sounds like a lot of research but lucky for you, we’ve done all the research already! Read on to learn more about what job interview questions you don’t have to answer.

How can job interview questions be illegal to ask?

Job interview questions can be deemed illegal when they touch upon certain personal characteristics or aspects that are protected under anti-discrimination laws. In Australia, as in many other countries, there are laws and regulations in place to ensure fairness and equality in the workplace. These laws prohibit discrimination based on factors such as age, gender, race, and other personal characteristics.

When interview questions delve into these protected areas, they can be considered discriminatory and therefore illegal.

Illegal interview questions

So what are the illegal interview questions that cannot be asked? According to the Fair Work Act 2009, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against the following factors:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Sex
  • Sexual preference
  • Age
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Marital status
  • Family or carer’s responsibilities
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Political opinion
  • National or social origin

This means questions pertaining to these topics should not be asked. In Western Australia, we are also governed by the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 which also relates to these topics.

Examples of specific questions you are not legally required to answer in a job interview include:

“How old are you?” or “When did you graduate from high school?”

These questions are trying to determine a person’s age. Asking about age can lead to age bias and unfair treatment of job candidates, whether they are older or younger. For younger people, it may appear as overlooking them for positions due to a perceived lack of experience or maturity, despite possessing the necessary transferable skills. On the flipside, older candidates may face discrimination through being passed over for roles in favour of younger applicants, despite having extensive experience and qualifications.

“What is your ethnicity?” or “Where were you born?”

These questions directly inquire about a candidate’s nationality or ethnicity, which can lead to discrimination based on race or nationality. It is illegal for employers to discriminate on the grounds of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin in various areas, including when hiring new employees. Therefore, it is not necessary for hiring managers to ask this question.

“Are you married?” or “Do you have children?”

These questions directly inquire about a candidate’s marital or family status, which can lead to discrimination based on family responsibilities. For example, a candidate with children may be perceived as less committed or reliable due to potential caregiving responsibilities, leading to their dismissal as a viable candidate. An unmarried candidate may be viewed as more flexible and able to dedicate long hours to the job, leading to their preference over married candidates with larger families. When neither scenario may be the case.

“What’s your sexual orientation?” or “What pronouns do you use?”

These questions directly inquire about a candidate’s personal identity and gender expression, which are unrelated to their ability to perform the job. Whilst it may be acceptable for a hiring manager to introduce themselves and state their pronouns, you are under no obligation to share yours if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.

“What is your religion?” or “Do you attend church?”

Asking about a candidate’s religion can lead to bias in the hiring process. For example, if a candidate reveals they belong to a minority religion, they may face discrimination or prejudice from the interviewer. Similarly, questions about church attendance can imply a preference for candidates of a particular religious background, which is unfair and irrelevant to job performance.

“Do you have a disability?” or “Have you ever filed for workers’ compensation?”

These questions directly inquire about a candidate’s health status or disability, which are also protected characteristics. It is common to ask if you require any job modifications to cater to your illness or disability, however, you do not have to disclose this information until after you have been hired for the job.

“Do you own your own home?” or “How much debt do you have?”

Questions about a job candidate’s financial situation are generally unrelated to their ability to perform the job and can lead to bias in the hiring process. Asking about home ownership or debt levels can lead to discrimination against candidates who may not own a home or who may have significant debt.

“Are you a member of a political party?” or “Who did you vote for in the last election?”

Political beliefs are also considered personal and private matters. You have a right to keep this information confidential and should not be pressured to disclose it during the hiring process. Asking about political views may also create a perception of discrimination based on one’s views.

Exceptions to illegal job interview questions

It’s important to be aware there are some exceptions and this generally means the information is required to perform the job. Questions related to health or medical conditions may be permissible if they directly relate to the requirements of the job. For example, if the job involves heavy lifting or operating machinery, the employer may ask about the candidate’s physical abilities to ensure they can safely perform the tasks required for the job.

What do I do if I get asked an illegal job interview question?

If you encounter an illegal job interview question, there are several steps you can take to address the situation:

  • Stay calm: Maintain your composure and remain professional throughout the interview process, even if you feel uncomfortable or taken aback by the question.
  • Politely decline to answer: You have the right to refuse to answer any question that you believe is inappropriate or illegal. You can politely decline to answer by saying something like, “I prefer not to answer that question as it’s not relevant to my qualifications for the position.”
  • Redirect the conversation: If possible, steer the conversation back to topics related to your skills, qualifications, and experience that are relevant to the job. You can provide examples of your relevant achievements or discuss your enthusiasm for the role.
  • Address the Issue afterwards: If you feel comfortable doing so, you can raise the issue with the interviewer after the interview has concluded. Politely express your concerns about the inappropriate question and clarify why it was inappropriate. However, you are not obligated to.

Get job ready with Centacare Training & Employment

Navigating the realm of job interviews can be intimidating, especially when faced with illegal or inappropriate questions. At Centacare, we understand the importance of empowering job seekers with the knowledge and skills to confidently navigate situations like this. We offer various free training programs to help you get the employability skills to find your dream job. Don’t hesitate to enquire online to learn more about Centacare’s training courses.

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