Woman sitting opposite two other women

Questions you can’t be asked in a job interview

Finding a job can be really hard. When you finally get an interview for that job you want, it is an amazing feeling! A job interview allows employers to decide if you are suitable for the role, and gives you an opportunity to discuss your skills and experience. It can also be a chance for you to ask the prospective employer questions.

However, it is very important you know your rights, and which questions cannot be asked in a job interview. There are exceptions, primarily when the question legitimately relates to your ability to meet the role requirements. But we can all agree there are some inappropriate questions you should never be asked in a job interview.

Age

You cannot be asked your age in an interview. If you do disclose your age, and then do not get the job, this could amount to age discrimination if you can prove that your age was the reason for not being hired. Age groups are also included in the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth).

There are some jobs that will have exceptions if a person’s age means they cannot complete the role requirements, due to the nature of the work. For example, a pub may refuse to hire someone under 18 as they cannot work with alcohol. Instead of actually asking your age, an interviewer may instead ask if you are able to hold a valid RSA.

Once you are employed, your employer will need to know your date of birth for taxation, superannuation and remuneration entitlement reasons. This is legal.

Family Plans

Your interviewer cannot ask you about whether you have children, are pregnant, or your likelihood of having children. If you are treated less favourably because of your children or plans to have children, this may be considered discrimination on the grounds of family responsibilities under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Marital Status

An interviewer cannot ask you what your marital or relationship status is. This question is inappropriate, as it won’t relate to your ability to do the job. It is unlawful to discriminate based on this and may amount to sex discrimination.

Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

Being asked about your sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal. These questions should be irrelevant to any job that you apply for. It can amount to discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Race or Ethnicity

A question about your race or ethnicity is inappropriate unless the role specifically requires a person to be of, or have connections with, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage. If your race or ethnicity is not relevant to the job, it can become racial discrimination if this is the factor that means you aren’t hired.

However, you may be asked if you are entitled to work in Australia, or have an appropriate work visa. You may also be required to provide proof of this. This question is legal.

Medical Conditions or Disability

This can be a tricky area to navigate. The simple answer is you cannot be asked if you have a medical condition or disability if it does not affect your ability to perform your role. Any discrimination related to medical conditions may amount to disability or impairment discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) or equivalent State or Territory legislation. The employer may ask if they wish to know how you can be best accommodated in the role, if you do have a disability or medical condition.

However, some jobs, such as the police or defence force, will require you to undergo a health assessment due to the requirements of the role. This is legal. Other roles may require employees to do heavy lifting, so questions related to someone’s ability to perform heavy lifting tasks is ok.

Religion

An interviewer cannot ask whether you follow a religion or belief. To be treated any differently based on your religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs) may amount to discrimination depending on your State or Territory laws.

An exception exists for some religious organisations that may require you to follow their faith. An employer may be able to legitimately impose requirements in the workplace where a person’s religious beliefs prohibit them from working on certain days, wearing safety equipment or making an oath incompatible with their beliefs, for example.

Unions

To discriminate against someone based on their trade union activity or affiliation is unlawful under the Fair Work Act, and under some State-based anti-discrimination legislation.

Political Opinion

You cannot be asked your political opinion or who you vote for. However, being politically affiliated may mean you are not eligible for roles with the Public Service or Australian Electoral Commission, for example.

So what happens if you are asked an unlawful question?

This can be a really hard situation, especially if you are eager to get the role.

If you are asked a question you do not believe is appropriate, you should politely state that you do not believe it is relevant to the role, and could the employer please explain why they have asked the question. The interviewer may then be able to explain the relevance, or they may realise their mistake and withdraw the question. The main thing to remember is to always stay respectful and professional.

Where to get help

Fair Work Australia is great source of information and advice about any workplace rights and obligations. You can also contact them by calling 13 13 94. For specific information related to discrimination at work, head here.


If you’re experiencing employment issues, we can help. You can email us at advocacy@une.edu.au or call on (02) 6773 3116. If you’re on campus, feel free to visit our office in the Arcade, to the north of Café Life.

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