The interview: Can an employer ask if a candidate has children?

Question: We are seeking to fill a secretarial position that requires the employee to work overtime hours on a regular basis. Is there a problem with asking any potential new hire whether or not she has any family obligations (such as children), which might prevent her from fulfilling the requirements of the job?

Answer: Provincial human rights legislation prevents employers from discriminating against potential new employees during the hiring process. In particular, a person’s marital or family status is a prohibited ground of discrimination and therefore, as a matter of caution, questions about whether or not the potential new hire has a family or children should be considered off-limits. This will guard against a potential complaint for discrimination in hiring. A more appropriate approach for you to take might be to simply ask whether or not, if hired, the employee would have a problem with working overtime on a regular basis. This would accomplish what you are seeking without opening yourself up to a possible human rights complaint.

Peter Israel, leader of the human resources management group at Goodman and Carr LLP, Toronto, is editorial consultant to Canadian Employment Law Today. He has more than 20 years of experience in employment and labour law. He can be reached at [email protected] or (416) 595-2323.

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