Looking for a job in Canada as a newcomer? Questions an employer is not allowed to ask in a job interview

Edana Robitaille
Published: October 19, 2023

It can be an exciting time when you finally land a job interview after you arrive in Canada. This is especially true if you are on a tight budget or have people you need to support financially.

This type of situation means newcomers looking for work in Canada are often in a vulnerable position where they may overlook their rights to get a job in Canada. However, in the long-term, you may find a better employer if you know your rights and ask that they are respected.

Every province and territory has an office that deals with labour and employment laws, and they must adhere to the Canada Human Rights Act.

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Employers are not allowed to discriminate

In Canada, the Human Rights Act outlines that no one can be discriminated against based on their race, place of origin, or ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, age, marital and family status, disability, or financial situation.

An effective way to avoid discrimination while job hunting is to ensure that you do not include any personal information on your resume such as your age, marital status, living arrangements or a photograph. These are not typically included on a resume in Canada. Employers are meant to evaluate candidates based solely on professional qualifications, such as work experience and educational background.

In a job interview, you should only be asked questions that relate to the job you are interviewing for. The Ontario Human Rights Commission recommends that before starting interviews, companies should make a list of questions and the desired answers and rank candidates accordingly to limit bias and discrimination.

Examples of illegal questions

The Canada Human Resources Commission outlines some of the questions that an employer is not permitted to ask but offers solutions on how employers may obtain relevant information.

Citizenship

To begin with, a potential employer is not allowed to ask if you are a Canadian citizen or inquire about your country of birth or your primary language. They are, however, allowed to ask if you are authorized to work in Canada and if you are fluent in a second language other than the one you are being interviewed in.

Age

Further, they cannot ask you your age or your birthday. In some countries, including this information on a resume is normal but omitting it can help avoid creating bias. The only thing the employer needs to know is that you are of legal age to work. They can do this by asking if you are between the ages of 18-64.

Your health

Employers cannot ask you about your weight, height, or health. This includes any questions about disabilities. An employer cannot ask about any physical or mental disabilities and should make the maximum effort to accommodate a candidate to ensure they do not have any disadvantages throughout the interview process. They may instead outline some of the daily tasks you would be expected to perform and ask if you can complete them and how you would do so.

Questions about your family or marital status

It is extremely inappropriate for an interviewer to ask anyone about their marital status, who they live with (their names or genders), if they have children (or how many) or about childcare arrangements. These questions can lead to discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

The important aspect from a business perspective is that an employee can work their agreed-upon hours or overtime as needed. You do not need to disclose your family obligations, only that you are available to work.

You are not required to tell a potential employer if you are pregnant and cannot be denied the job if you can demonstrate that you are the most qualified candidate. If you disclose a pregnancy after being hired, you cannot be fired or laid off because of your pregnancy.

Religion

A potential employer is not permitted to ask you about your religion or faith, or if you will need time off for religious observances. They can ask if you are available to work at a specific time or day of the week. Again, you do not need to tell an employer why you are not available.

How to handle illegal questions

You may refuse to answer any illegal question. Monster.ca, a popular job searching website, says you can simply say you are not comfortable answering the question, or counter by asking how the answer would be relevant to the position. Most employers will back down and change the subject. However, this can create tension in the interview and may result in you not getting the job.

If you would rather not take a hard stance against a question, Monster recommends deflecting. As an example, it says that if an interviewer asks you where you are from or your nationality, use that opportunity to refer to any international experience you have that will give the employer a competitive advantage.

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