Students: Know Your Rights While Job-Hunting!

In the News

Fall semester just started, and you might be looking for a part-time job. Applying for jobs can be stressful. But there are laws in Quebec to protect all jobseekers during the process.

Job Interviews: Watch out for Illegal Questions

Job interviews are meant for a potential employer to get to know an applicant and vice versa. But there is such a thing as getting “too personal” during an interview.

In general, an employer can’t ask you questions about personal characteristics if they’re not related to the position. This includes questions about:

  • Your ethnicity,
  • Your age,
  • Your sexual orientation,
  • Your mental or physical health,
  • Your gender identity,
  • Your family situation.

You can refuse to answer these questions, even when the employer simply asks them out of curiosity or to break the ice.

Some Personal Questions Don’t Cross the Line

An employer may need to ask you certain personal questions to decide if you’re the right person for the job. If the questions are necessary to see if you meet the job requirements, they might have the right to ask them. But, these requirements must also be reasonable. 

For example, a court decided that a mental health institution had the right to ask applicants for a nursing position whether they had already struggled with chronic anxiety. According to the court, the question was reasonable, because the position required dealing with patients who could potentially be unpredictable or aggressive.

If you apply for a position at a non-profit organization, they can ask you some personal questions if the information is relevant to the pursuit of their mission. For example, a shelter for abused women may decide to only hire social workers who identify as women. The same rule applies to institutions that are devoted to the well-being of a particular ethnic group.

What About Background Checks?

Before taking a final decision, the employer might need to check a few more things.

They have the right to ask you if you have a criminal record. You don’t need to disclose this information if they don’t ask. But bear in mind that they can check if you have one in Canada without your permission. 

Some employers may also ask for your permission to run a credit check on you. This is legal. But they can’t decide not to hire you simply because you have bad credit, unless the requirement is directly linked to the position you applied for.

You don’t need to give them personal information that isn’t necessary to run the credit check. For example, in general, your social insurance number isn’t considered necessary.

If you have questions about your rights during your job search, you can contact the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Quebec’s human rights commission)