Can employers ask about past union affiliations during a job interview?

Question: During an interview, is an employer permitted to ask an applicant about past union affiliations?

Answer: In Ontario, under the Labour Relations Act, 1995, employers are prohibited from refusing to employ a person because he was or is a member of a trade union.

Therefore it would be inadvisable to ask the above question since it can only be assumed the purpose of such a question is to determine if the applicant belongs or once belonged to a union, and if no offer of employment is subsequently made it is likely the refusal to offer employment was due to the applicant’s union affiliation. Whether or not the applicant was ever a member of a union has no bearing on the applicant’s ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of the position and, therefore, the question will be likely be viewed as evidence of a purpose which is contrary to the act.

Employers should also be advised that the remedies available to the board to enforce the provisions of the act are quite broad and far-reaching.

For example the board can make an order directing the employer to hire the person concerned, with or without compensation, or to compensate the individual instead of hiring for loss of earnings or other employment benefits in an amount assessed by the board. Failure to comply with such an order can result in a fine of up to a maximum of $25,000.

Peter Israel is counsel to Goodman and Carr LLP in Toronto and is head of the firm’s Human Resource Management Group. Peter can be reached at [email protected] or (416) 595-2323.

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