We’ve all been through the interview process before, and we’re all familiar with the routine – a potential employer invites us in and asks questions to learn as much as possible about our skills and potential fit. Seems simple enough. But what happens if the interviewer asks an illegal question? It happens surprisingly often. Some of these questions are so common, and can come so naturally in regular conversation, that you may not know they’re illegal to ask. However, employment law expressly prohibits particular types of questions to ensure equal opportunity hiring.

Here’s a look at a few examples of common interview questions employers are not allowed to ask:

How old are you?

That’s right. A seemingly innocent questions is, in fact, illegal to ask. They can ask if you are of legal age to be employed in Canada, or if you are of legal age to serve alcohol, but anything more is infringing on your rights. Additionally, watch out for alternate questions that may be an attempt to infer your age. For example, what year did you graduate? While a question like that is not expressly illegal, answer only if you are comfortable and feel it is not an attempt at age discrimination.

Do you have children? If not, do you have plans to?

Some employers feel that parents are less likely to work extended hours and more likely to take days off for their kids. These employers want to know if you are worth their financial investment by deducing how many hours you’re able to work. However, they are not allowed to make hiring decisions based on this fact and you are not obligated to answer if you are asked.

Have you ever been arrested?

This can be a tricky one. Interviewers are not allowed to ask about your arrest record. Unless you were convicted of a crime, you are considered innocent of any offence and you are not obligated to answer to this question. However, an interviewer can legally ask if you have been convicted of a crime, and if they do so, you will be expected to provide an answer.

What is your sexual orientation?

Fundamental discrimination laws prohibit questions like these as they have no bearing on whether or not you are capable of preforming the duties of the job. This creates the opportunity for discrimination, and if any employer asks this question, they are clearly offside.

What religion do you practice?

Like sexual orientation, the religion you practice has no bearing on whether or not you are able to complete the tasks required. They may be asking to know what holidays you celebrate and determine what days you will need off, but there are better ways to ask and more appropriate times to coordinate.

What is your marital status?

Though this question seems simple enough, answering it can disclose more information than you realize. Similar to asking about your plans for children, this is an attempt to determine your availability for extra work and longer hours. You may answer if you feel comfortable, but if you think they may discriminate against your situation, you are by no means obligated to.

Do you have any physical impairments or disabilities?

Employers are not allowed to ask about your health or disabilities. They are allowed to ask if you are able to complete work related jobs, for example, if you can lift large amounts of weight, or if you’re able to be on your feet for hours at a time. But broad questions about overall health can lead to discrimination based on disabilities, and that starts to creep into illegal territory.

Do you smoke or drink socially?

This question is in an attempt to elicit information about your reliability based on any current addictions or lifestyle choices. Broad questions like this are illegal. Answer with care and if you feel comfortable enough to do so.

 In summary…

If an interviewer is asking you any of the above questions, you have the right to deny the disclosure of information. An excellent way to defer illegal questions is by assessing what information the interviewer is looking for, and directing the conversation to your related employable skills. If they are a quality employer, they should accept your answer without any difficulties. If they continue to push you for information, really think about whether this is the type of employer you want to be working for anyway.