Honesty might be the best policy when it comes to interviews but that doesn’t mean you should divulge personal information just because it’s asked. In fact, there are some questions that are illegal for an employer or recruitment agency to pose. With that in mind, here’s how to recognise when you’re asked an illegal question and how to respond.
An employer will want to find out as much about you as possible during a job interview. While questions about your skills and experience are perfectly valid, there are some personal questions they should not ask and which you’re under no obligation to answer.
‘Illegal questions are those that could lead a potential employer to discriminate against you on the grounds of age, race, marital or parental status, religion, health, disability or sexual orientation, for example,’ explains Corinne Mills, (www.personalcareermanagement.com) Managing Director of Personal Career Management.
Questions about health and disability
The Equality Act 2010 contains provisions to prevent disabled job seekers from being screened out early in the recruitment process.
This means you cannot be asked disability or health-related questions before you are offered a job, including details of any sickness absence from your last job.
There are limited exceptions, for example, when a candidate requires a level of physical ability to carry out the job, such as a care assistant who is required to lift residents.
Corinne explains: ‘An employer may ask if you need any reasonable adjustments to attend an interview as they are trying to be helpful to those who may have a disability, such as a mobility challenge.
‘However, they cannot ask you any health related questions prior to offering you a job, whether this is via a health questionnaire, referral to an occupational health practitioner or just general questions about your sickness record.
‘Once they have offered you the job they can ask you health questions and they can still potentially withdraw the job offer, but they would need to be very careful that this decision was not related to disability discrimination, otherwise they could face a potentially very expensive legal claim from the disadvantaged candidate.’
Questions about age
To prevent candidates from being discriminated against on age, employers cannot ask you to give your date of birth on application forms or ask questions that relate to your age.
Corinne says: ‘Sneaky employers may try to get round this by asking you a related question, such as you how many years you see yourself working until retirement, but this is illegal too.’
So what should you say if you’re asked a question that directly, or indirectly, refers to you age?
Corinne says: ‘Tell them how much you enjoy working and that you have no plans to retire.
‘If age seems to be an issue, and they haven’t asked you the question innocently, you may want to ask them directly if they have any concerns around your age.
‘If they say they are unsure of your commitment to the job or energy levels, then this gives you the opportunity to reassure them, ideally by providing recent examples which demonstrate your capabilities.’
The exception would be if you are applying for a job for which you need to be over the age of 18, to work as a barman or in a casino for example. In this case, it is the employer’s legal duty to establish your eligibility as a candidate.
Questions about marital or parental status
Interviewers are also not allowed to ask questions that relate to your marital status, or whether you have – or are planning to start – a family.
If you are asked whether you are married or have children, Corinne’s advice is to ask why that would be an important consideration for the job.
Corinne explains: ‘It puts the onus on them to justify why they are asking you it in the first place. If, for instance the job involves working unsocial hours or away from home then this may be their rather clumsy attempt to check whether this is realistic for you, rather than just downright discrimination. In which case, you can simply respond by saying these aren’t a problem, rather than going into details of your personal life.’
‘Bear in mind it could just be badly worded question,’ adds Colin Lloyd (www.personalcareermanagement.com), Regional Director at Personal Career Management.
‘For example, the employer wants you to know that the company has a crèche in case it’s a benefit to you but it comes across as a question about kids rather than a statement.
‘If you’re pretty certain it’s asked out of bias or you are asked a raft of illegal questions, you need to seriously consider whether you would want to work there anyway.’
Questions about race
It is also illegal for an employer to enquire about your race or ask where you were born, what your native language is or what your religious views are again, these are all potential areas for discrimination and do not in any way relate to your ability to do the job.
If you’re asked a question related to your race, Colin’s advice is to gently remind them that the question is illegal.
‘I would say: “Are you sure it’s ok for you to ask me that question?” delivered genuinely and non-judgementally.
‘Ultimately you can simply politely refuse to answer the question as it is illegal this itself maybe the right answer in some form of bizarre test of your morals/legal knowledge.’