Avoid a lawsuit – never ask illegal interview questions

A wide range of interview questions is necessary to help find the right employees for your business. However, asking illegal questions can bring discrimination claims against you, threatening your company’s finances and reputation.

Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015, maximum compensation against a prospective employee can amount to €13,000, up to two years’ remuneration when found against a current employee (regardless of their length of service), and potentially uncapped if the discrimination relates to gender (including pregnancy-related discrimination).

Most recently, John Halligan, the Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, illegally discriminated against a potential employee asking whether she was married and had children. The female candidate was awarded €7,500 compensation, and Mr Halligan found himself under pressure to resign his position as junior jobs minister.

Similarly, a teacher was awarded €54,000 after she was discriminated against during an interview on the grounds of religion, age, and sexual orientation.

From the examples above we see that the importance of recruiting staff in a manner that is both fair and non-discriminatory can’t be underestimated.

To ensure this, managers and those involved in recruitment decisions need to be adequately trained and have a working understanding of what can or can’t constitute discrimination.

What constitutes discrimination?

Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 discrimination is treating one person less favourably than another on one or more of the protected grounds:

  • Gender
  • Civil Status
  • Family Status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Membership of the Traveller Community

You must avoid any discrimination on the above grounds in job advertisements and during interviews.

Minimise the risk of a discrimination claim during recruitment process:

  1. Make sure that the job description specifying desired candidates could not be interpreted as discriminatory. For example, never require applicants to provide details of their gender, age, race, civil status etc. via the application form
  2.  Ensure that interviewing staff are familiar with employment equality legislation and the issues surrounding unconscious bias in interviewing candidates for a particular role.
  3. Treat every applicant in the same way by adopting a consistent approach when reviewing job applications and shortlisting candidates for interview.
  4. When taking notes during the interview avoid any bias or possibility of interpretation as discriminatory. If using a scoring system, make sure that the selection criteria are objective and applied consistently to each interviewee. Record reasons for not offering a job to unsuccessful applicants in an unbiased way.
  5.  Discrimination can occur before, during or after an interview. Be mindful not to ask illegal questions when taking a candidate to the interview room or showing them to the lift.
  6. In compliance with data protection law, the records of unsuccessful candidates should be retained for 12 months.

Sometimes a job requires an applicant of a particular race, sex, religion, age, or sexual orientation. If this is a genuine post requirement, it will not be unlawful to discriminate against certain sectors of society.

To ensure that only a necessary, objective and legal questions will be asked during the interview schedule a pre-interview meeting to draw up a list of questions. Focus on the skill sets needed for the job advertised and avoid asking subjective questions about a candidate’s personal life, which can be in breach with the anti-discriminatory laws.