Pre-Employment Guide for Employers: What Questions Can I Legally Ask Job Candidates? 

Share Post:

August 9, 2022

By Jillian Tomimoto, Innovation & Technology Legal Intern at Donna Purcell QC Law

Every interviewer has several key questions they ask candidates to determine if the candidate is the right person for the job; other questions are asked to break the ice with the interviewee in what can be a nerve-racking situation. But these questions could be exposing your company or organization to legal liability. 

It is against the law in Alberta for employers to discriminate against applicants during pre-employment inquiries, including through job advertisements, application forms and interview questions (Alberta Human Rights Act, RSA 2000, c A-25.5, s 8 [Act]). Employers may unintentionally collect certain information via application forms and interview questions that could be used to discriminate against a job candidate. If a hiring decision is based on a prohibitive “ground of discrimination”, this could open an employer up to a discrimination lawsuit. 

The protected grounds in Alberta include:  

  • gender, gender identity or gender expression  
  • race or colour 
  • religious beliefs  
  • physical or mental disability 
  • age 
  • ancestry 
  • place of origin or citizenship status  
  • marital, common-law or family status  
  • source of income 
  • sexual orientation 

In order to avoid potential issues, employers should be aware of the specific protected grounds and avoid asking questions which require an interviewee to disclose their status. 

It is, however, legal for employers to ask questions concerning protected grounds if they require that information to verify that the candidate can perform the job (“Pre-employment inquiries” (July 2017), online: Alberta Human Rights Commission.

For example, drinking establishments may ask potential bartenders if they are 18 years of age or older because that is the legal age to serve liquor in Alberta. 

Below are a few examples of both acceptable and unacceptable interview questions, advertisements and application requirements for employers based in Alberta (“A recommended guide for pre-employment inquiries” (July 2017), online: Alberta Human Rights Commission:

  • Instead of asking if a candidate has childcare arrangements in place, you can ask the applicant for their availability for shift work, evening work, weekend work or travel. 
  • It is not permissible to ask a candidate if they are a Canadian citizen. Although citizenship is not a protected ground named in the Act, citizenship could be viewed as a proxy for place of origin, race or colour, which are protected grounds. Instead, you can ask the applicant if they are legally entitled/permitted to work in Canada. 
  • You should not ask an applicant if they have received or are receiving Workers’ Compensation. Asking this may reveal a candidate’s physical disability, which can be contrary to the Act. However, requiring an applicant to pass a job-related medical examination after acceptance of a job offer is lawful.  

Employers should steer clear of questions that require a candidate to provide information regarding a protected ground. A hiring decision influenced by a prohibitive ground may amount to discrimination and breach the Act. An employer committing a breach of the Act may be found liable for lost wages, damages to dignity and legal costs of the interviewee (Kvaska v Gateway Motors (Edmonton) Ltd, 2020 AHRC 94; Act, s 32).  

For more information or to see if your company’s hiring and employment practices are compliant with human rights law, contact our Employment Law Group.  

This article is of an informational nature only and should not be relied upon as business, legal, or other professional advice. It is not exhaustive of the possible rights or remedies available to you. Laws may change over time and the those listed above may not be up to date. This article and all materials provided are not intended to be relied upon without further consultation. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation. Please Contact Us to set up a consultation. Please see our Terms of Service for more information.

Stay Connected

More from DPQC Law

Legal Goes Digital

Donna Purcell, KC, Lawyer and Chief Innovation Officer of Donna Purcell QC Law spoke to the Manufacturing & Export Enhancement (MEE) cluster. See the full article here. As Bronze Sponsors of the SmartMTX, Donna leads a cloud-based full-service law firm that serves clients throughout Alberta and beyond. Donna elaborates “Our firm offers timely and cost-effective

Legal Assistant Job Posting

Benefits: Pay: Competitive. Commensurate with experience. Schedule: Monday to Friday; 37.5 Hours per week Location of Ideal Candidate: Preferably in or near a major center such as Calgary, Red Deer, or Edmonton. Job Description: Donna Purcell QC Law has a career advancing position available as an In-House Legal Assistant/Paralegal with a strong background in Personal

Donna Purcell

Lady Justice: Justice for the Classes

Our democracy depends on the rule of law. Too many rules, some of them referred to as red tape, can halt society and keep it from being free, competitive and innovative. Not enough rules and we descend into chaos, each citizen out for themselves. The global pandemic is an example of a situation where the lack of established rules resulted in polarity and chaos, as we do NOT all think alike – surprise, surprise. Everything needs balance, thus the symbolic scales of justice held by Lady Justice.

General Inquiry
Tell us who you are and how we can get in touch with you.
What area of law are you are needing support with?
How can we help you?
Do not send details and/or confidential information/records about your case by email or other electronic means. We will not review forwarded information, or provide advice until you are accepted as our client. The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. Any email correspondence to Donna Purcell QC Law is for information only until you are accepted as our client. You should first seek legal/professional advice from someone retained to represent you before taking action regarding your matter.
Request A Call Back Now
Tell us who you are and how we can get in touch with you.
When is the best time to call you back?
Tell us what you’d like to talk about so we can have the right member of our team call you back.