I am concerned about what questions I can ask prospective employees at their interview. I’m worried that I could, unknowingly, discriminate against an applicant.
Interviewing prospective staff can be as stressful for you as for your applicants, as you are always conscious of staying on the right side of anti-discrimination legislation. Following a recent case in last week’s press, you need to be on guard.
In John Reaney v the Hereford Diocesan Board of Finance, Reaney won his claim of unlawful discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, after a Church of England bishop refused him a job. The issue arose when, during the job interview, the man was questioned by the bishop on his previous gay relationship. He subsequently did not get the job, despite being told he was the ‘outstanding candidate’ for the position.
You would be breaking the law if you discriminated against an applicant in relation to their gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, religion, disability, status as a married person or a civil partner, pregnancy, maternity leave, union membership or age.
If more than one person is conducting the interview, it is a good idea for them to meet in advance to agree the questions to put to applicants, ensuring they always relate to the role.
When interviewing a number of applicants, try to put the same questions to each person in the same order. You should also avoid ‘chitchat’ with the candidates to avoid asking inappropriate questions about the applicant’s private life or personal situation – for example, questions about sexual orientation or family planning should be avoided.
In another recent case, Corus Hotels plc v Woodward & Anor, the employer was ordered to pay £4,000 for injury to feelings to a prospective female employee on the basis of questions asked at the interview, which implied that she would not be able to hold down the job because she had children.
If you want to ask questions about a sensitive topic, such as disability, then seek guidance first. As a general rule, remember to only ask questions relevant to the applicant’s ability to do the job.