A job interview should be an open discussion but there are some legalities around the process that you should be aware of before you begin.
Every interview is different depending on the job's responsibilities, but most interviews will contain similar types of questions or patterns of questioning.
So, whilst the purpose of the interview is for you to determine if your candidate is right for the vacancy, there are laws to protect the interviewee from being asked illegal questions that could possibly lead to discrimination.
Whether you are seeking to clarify a person's work history, skills or ability to perform specific job requirements, the focus should only be on how much you need to know to make sure this person can do the job.
The line of questioning
Your questions need to be pertinent and revealing; however, the line between legal and illegal interview questions can be slim:
You may wish to know if someone is eligible to work in the UK but not where the person's parents were born. This would be deemed unnecessary and potentially racist.
An age inquiry may be made to ensure a person is old enough to work for the job being filled, or if the job is among the few where age discrimination is permitted such as physically dangerous or hazardous work or driving a school bus.
Other question types which may leave you open to legal action include:
- Marital/ Family Status - Asking about marital status can also be considered discriminatory as it may imply that the single or divorced person is somehow less reliable or less committed. An easy alternative to ask is if there anything that would interfere with regular attendance at work.
- Personal details - Minimum height and weight requirements are unlawful if they screen out a disproportionate number of women or minorities. Unless the employer can show that a height or weight requirement is essential for job performance, such inquiries should be avoided. Your questions need to be phrased so that they relate directly to the job in hand, not against the person in question:.
- Disabilities - A large part of discrimination falls under disabilities. Questions about a person's disability or health are unlawful if they imply or express a limitation based on disability. You may inquire about an applicant's ability to perform certain job functions such as if they are able to carry out in a safe manner all job assignments.
Avoiding legal action
Discrimination and legal action is quite simply best avoided, rather than left to solicitors to sort out once a claim has been made.
This requires that you become thoroughly aware of discrimination pitfalls, and attempt to make your organisation as non-discriminatory as possible. This in itself will help to alleviate any possible claims against you in the future.
Your job descriptions and person descriptions should be professionally written and preferably overseen by a recruitment professional within your organisation.
As we have outlined above, with careful question planning, you can still gain the information you need, without laying yourself open to discrimination.
If however, a claim is made against your company and it is reasonable you may wish to try to sort it out with the claimant before they take it further. It may be that your discrimination was unintentional or a mistake and you may wish to rectify it in some way.
Obviously, if you simply did not wish to employ that person for legitimate reasons, you will have to prove that your decision was not based upon any form of discrimination and have clear reasons why the person was not chosen in favour of the person who was.
It is a tricky area, and some companies might be liable to offer compensation to the person in question who has a genuine complaint. Providing the right and measured procedures when recruiting will avoid this and it will also avoid your company being subject to bogus discriminatory claims by an unscrupulous candidate who, sadly, may be looking for just such compensation offers.