Dear Reader

Thank-you for applying to work on this column. Welcome to your job interview.

I’m now going to ask you some questions. As I must comply with the employment laws, I’ll tell you as we go along if my questions are lawful or not.

I already have your name, and that you have experience in this type of work, but I do not know how old you are. When were you born? I gather from your silence that you refuse to answer this question. You are quite within your rights. Under the Human Rights Act 1993 I can only ask this if age is a genuine occupational qualification for the job.

Otherwise, I might be taken to have unlawfully discriminated against you because of your age.

I could get some idea of your age by asking how up-to-date your qualifications are; your experience in this area of work; and to look at a full CV. That is an acceptable line of questioning. I should not ask if you are unemployed. Under the Human Rights Act it is unlawful to decide not to employ someone by reason of their employment status.

For this position, I need someone who can work late on short notice, and who can work school holidays. Can you do this, and do you have any children?

I am entitled to ask you when you can work, but I must not discriminate against you if you have children and are qualified for the job. Responsibility for children is another prohibited ground of discrimination in employment.

The position you have applied for involves typing for about six hours a day. Do you have any relevant medical conditions? This question is permitted, as it is directly related to your ability to do the work.

But what can I do now you’ve said you have OOS and can only type for two hours a day? As typing is a significant part of the job, I can discriminate against you (decide not to hire you) on the basis of this disability, provided it is unreasonable to expect me to get someone else to help with the typing or give you special services or equipment.

I could also choose not to hire you if you had a disability that meant performing your work would be unsafe for you or others. It would have been unlawful to ask you a more open-ended question such as “do you have any medical problems?” This shows an intention to discriminate, and does not focus on your ability to perform the position’s duties.

As our work can be stressful, I encourage my workers to take short breaks. Would you want to smoke in them? I am entirely within my rights to ask this. I can decide not to employ you if you smoke at work.

I need someone trustworthy and reliable for this role. Do you have any criminal or court convictions, and have you ever been declared bankrupt?

Again, I can ask you these questions, and you have to answer truthfully. If you don’t, in some circumstances I could dismiss you. If you have convictions but I don’t ask you about them, you do not have to mention them to me.

We’ve nearly reached the end of the interview. I’ll now contact your referees and one or two other people I know in the industry to make sure you are suitable for the job.

What? Are you protesting about that? Don’t worry – I just want to find out what others think of you.

Actually, you are right to complain. I should get a written authorisation from you for your referees to speak to me. While I can go behind your back and ask industry colleagues about you, they would be in breach of the Privacy Act 1993 if they responded.

Why do you want this job? I can ask this, but now you tell me that it’s my job you want, this interview is ended!

By Penelope Ryder-Lewis, first published in The Dominion Post

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