I run my own business. Are there boundaries on the types of questions I can ask potential employees in their job interviews?
The short answer is ‘yes’! When interviewing potential new employees, employers need to be careful about the questions they ask. Although you might have a legitimate reason for not giving the job to a particular applicant, you don’t want them to begin wondering if they have been the victim of discrimination.
There is a range of Victorian and Federal legislation and case law which prohibits the unlawful discrimination of someone based on one or more of a series of factors. Even engaging in some friendly small talk during the job interview could potentially be used later against an unwitting employer.
When conducting your job interviews, we suggest that you avoid the following topics:
Especially if the job applicant is a mature person, you should avoid asking them about their age. In most workplaces, the age of the applicant will not be directly relevant to their ability to do the job.
This is a particularly sensitive subject when interviewing female applicants. You might be interested to know if they’re planning to start a family in the near future and take 12 months of maternity leave, but it’s illegal to refuse them the job on that basis. It’s best that you just don’t ask.
It might make nice small-talk to ask if an applicant is involved in a Church, for example, but discrimination on the basis of religion is a big issue. It isn’t related to the job, so don’t raise it.
Physical Impairments and Disabilities
You may think you’re being considerate when asking a disabled or impaired applicant how they will manage walking up your front steps every day, but doing so could very easily leave an unsuccessful applicant wondering if that’s why they didn’t get the job. Unless you have a legitimate concern regarding the applicant’s ability to do the job itself, you should avoid asking them about it.
As interesting as it may be to ask about an applicant’s background, it can easily be misconstrued. It is firmly established that race is almost always irrelevant to a person’s ability to perform in their job.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is clearly prohibited. Asking an applicant about their background or relationships could land you in hot water.
Although you are entitled to enforce a reasonable dress standard at your workplace, you shouldn’t comment on an applicant’s weight, hairstyle or tattoos. All those factors have been the subject of unfair discrimination cases, and you don’t want to be the next one!
Politics is often a good source of small-talk. However, discrimination against someone on the basis of their political beliefs is also illegal. Once again, it is best not to raise it with your potential employees. You don’t want to leave them thinking that they didn’t get the job because they have a different opinion to you.