Know Your Rights - Illegal Interview Questions
Interviews can be nerve wracking even at the best of times; you want to ace your interview, so you prepare your answers in advance to common questions you expect to be asked, such as, what are your strengths? Why do you want to work for this company? What skills and attributes can you bring to our team?
But sometimes questions come up that you don’t expect to hear, which can be extremely personal and uncomfortable to answer, yet you still answer them because you really want the job and you’re unsure if the questions are actually as unreasonable and inappropriate as they sound.
Some of the questions that employers shouldn’t be asking you include:
- Are you pregnant / do you have children / are you planning on having children?
- Are you married / planning on getting married?
- How old are you?
- What are your political opinions / who did you vote for?
- What are your religious / ethical beliefs?
- What’s your ethnicity / race?
- Have you ever had a mental health issue?
- What is your sexual orientation? I.e. gay, straight, bisexual, asexual.
Not only are these questions inappropriate and irrelevant to a person’s capability to do a job they are also discriminatory and illegal as they breach the Human Rights Act 1993.
However, there are exceptions to be mindful of; for example, it is okay for an employer to ask about age and ethnicity for an acting role or if the role has a minimum age requirement, such as a nanny or a position within the Army. Job Advertisements that specify applicants need to be of one gender are permissible if that role needs to be held by one sex to preserve reasonable standards of privacy or if the role is a genuine occupational qualification, an example of this would be a women’s gym hiring only female staff.
Employers are allowed to ask if a job applicant has any medical conditions or disabilities that would make it difficult for them to perform the tasks in the job description, be aggravated by the type of work they will be undertaking or which could compromise their health and safety or that of others in the workplace. They cannot ask to be provided with general information about a job applicant’s medical or ACC history, it must be come back to whether the applicant can perform the work required in the role satisfactorily.
Employers have obligations under the Health and Safety Employment Act 1992 to take practical steps to ensure the safety of their employees, so they are unlikely to hire someone who suffers from epileptic seizures for a job that requires them to work at heights or someone with severe vision impairment to drive a bus. However, it wouldn’t be fair for an employer to discount a job applicant with epilepsy or impaired eyesight for a desk job in an office.
In regards to mental health if a job applicant has a mental health illness that could impact their performance in the role then the employer should be advised, for example, someone with social phobia should tell their prospective employer if they’ll be doing a job that involves lots of contact and interaction with people, but not if the role is largely solitary and independent. You don’t need to advise employers if you have experienced mental health issues in the past, such as anxiety or depression. Unless it is likely to affect your work, it doesn’t need to be brought up.
Sexual orientation can be taken into account in the hiring process for a limited range of roles, such as clergy or a domestic position in a private household, such as a caregiver or nanny. Outside of this sexual orientation is not a topic employers should ever broach in an interview.
For a full list of questions and guidelines around what employers can and cannot ask in interviews, check out the Human Rights Commission’s ‘A – Z: Pre-employment Guidelines’: https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/3014/2360/3784/HRC_A-Z_Pre-employment_Guide.pdf
Written by Alisa Moore, Gaulter Russell Para Consultant