When you’re recruiting for your business, you’ll want to find the best person for the job as quickly as possible. But you’ll also be aware that you need to stay on the right side of the law by making sure your interviews aren’t in any way discriminatory.
They can’t appear to be discriminatory either. Applicants can bring employment tribunal claims for illegal discrimination against the employer who interviewed them, and they can base their claim on the implications behind your questions as much as the questions themselves.
Most interviewers genuinely intend to give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed, but applying legislation in the interview situation can be tricky. To give you that extra peace of mind, here are the interview questions that you absolutely must avoid to make sure that you don’t break the law or bring your business into disrepute:
‘How old are you?’
It’s usually against the law to ask applicants how old they are when they’re applying for a job, either on an application form or during a face-to-face interview. The reason for this is quite simple – it prevents discrimination and means you have to weigh up an applicant’s suitability based purely on ability to do the job.
There are some exceptions to this rule. The Equality Act permits direct discrimination on the basis of age if there is a Genuine Occupational Requirement. For example if a role involves serving alcohol and as the law states that individuals must be over the age of 18 to serve alcoholic drinks to customers, it would be acceptable to check that applicants are over 18.
‘What are your religious views?’
It’s usually unlawful to ask candidates about their religious beliefs at interview. In the majority of cases, the answer will have no impact whatsoever on their ability to carry out a particular job.
Again though, there are certain cases where a Genuine Occupational Requirement might exist. For example, if a religious organisation is recruiting a minister, it’s easy to see why candidates must belong to a certain religious group. And why the role of Halal butcher would require a person of Muslim faith.
However, just because an organisation has a particular religious stance, it doesn’t mean that all employees must share the same views. It would be difficult, for example, to justify the case that a receptionist should hold the same views as it would not be an integral part of the role.
What is your marital status?
Any question that is of a personal nature - marital status, age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability - is not only unethical, but often illegal.
There would be grounds for a discrimination case if decisions are based on this sort of issue – or if they appear to be simply by asking the question.
‘What are your childcare arrangements?’
It’s against the law to ask applicants about their childcare arrangements, even if you know that they have a young family. It’s potentially discriminatory, and will certainly give off the wrong messages about your business.
It makes sense that you want to know whether your candidates are able to work the hours needed, but it’s all about doing it in the right way. Asking whether there are any issues that would interfere with their regular attendance in the work place is a great (and completely legal) way to find out if your potential employee is in a position to take on the role.
‘Where were you born?’
As a potential employer you’re responsible for checking that the applicant is eligible to work in the UK before making an offer, and you’ll face a hefty fine if you employ illegal workers.
However, a candidate’s place of birth or ethnic background should not be brought up in an interview setting. It could provide grounds for a discrimination claim.
‘How do you feel about managing men?’
If you’re recruiting a manager who will be responsible for a team of men within the workplace, you may assume it would be acceptable to ask a female candidate whether she would feel comfortable about this, and vice versa.
Wrong. Explore the individual’s ability to deal with the challenges of a particular role, but take care not to imply that gender might have an impact on this.
Instead, ask questions to unearth details of previous management experience, and how the person has dealt with any particular issues along the way.
‘Can you tell me a little more about your disability?’
You’ll be asking interview questions about skills and experience applicants have that could help them succeed in the job. But it’s illegal to ask them about a condition or disability that would affect their capacity to carry out work. Don’t ask applicants whether they’ve ever suffered from mental health problems, if they’re taking any medication, why they use a wheelchair, or if they’re likely to need time off work for medical or disability-related reasons.
However there are instances when it might be acceptable to ask about disability. For example if the job absolutely couldn’t be carried out by someone with mobility issues, even with reasonable adjustments, then there would be a genuine need to establish whether any such barriers existed.
For more interview know-how, download our free Expert Interviewer's Guide here.
Do you need help with upcoming recruitment? With defining what you’re looking for and how you’ll recognise it, wording the advert, coaching in interview skills? Email The Human Resource on firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a no-obligation chat.