Dear Joanna,

I’m in shock. I just finished a job interview with a recruiter for a position as a customer service/order desk clerk. The interviewer asked me if I had a disability and what it was.  I learned from my Reena job coaches that this is an illegal question! I was so upset that I froze and didn’t respond. I want to work and this is the perfect job opportunity for me. Now more than ever, What’s the best way to handle illegal job interview questions like this one?   

Signed: In Shock

Dear In Shock,

I too am shocked and consulted the Reena job coaches to help respond to your question and also found some useful information from Sheppard’s blog

Our job coaches recommend starting with understanding the Ontario Human Rights code, and Federal and provincial laws such as the Employment Standards Act Questions should be job-related and not used to find out personal information.  A job interview should be focused on the candidate’s qualifications and the job requirements needed for the particular position. 

Employers often don’t realize that they are asking illegal questions. They need to steer clear of topics that could be grounds for discrimination such as disability, sexual orientation, marital status, race and age to name a few.  interviewers to focus on the following areas in an interview: Knowledge and Skills, Talents, Strengths and Weaknesses, Prior Work Experiences, and Character and Competencies.

The other recommendation is to understand the intent and concerns behind the question without compromising your rights. This is very challenging to identify. If it seems that the interviewer is worried about your ability to do the job and may have biases about hiring people with disabilities, it is important to reinforce your strengths and what you bring to the job – focus on your commitment to the job, your ABILITIES and how you will excel as an employee.

When asked a question that is considered inappropriate or illegal, you have a few options in how to respond:

  1. You can answer the question
    1. You can refuse to answer the question, which is well within your rights.
    1. You can examine the question for its intent and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job.
    1. You can ask “Can you please tell me how this is related to my ability to fill the position?” Most (if not all) interviewers will reword the question as it relates to the position.

From a practical standpoint, you may consider the following when responding to an inappropriate or illegal question that you experienced in this job interview:

WHAT IS YOUR DISABILITY? Consider: is there a legitimate requirement of the job that may be impacted by a physical restriction? If not, do not feel compelled to answer.  If you choose to, mention (if it is true) that, you are committed to your career, and exceeding your employer’s expectations. Reiterate how you can help the employer with his/her business. Emphasize your relevant skills, qualifications and accomplishments in your past professional or volunteer experiences.

Discrimination can appear at all stages of employment from the hiring stages (job applications and job postings, job interviews and even at the workplace sometimes!). It’s important that you educate yourself as well as to what is illegal and inappropriate questions so you are prepared to respond as you see fit.

Signed: Joanna