I have recently started looking for a job again after having my baby (he is now one). I am worried I may be discriminated against due to my circumstances and interview questions are becoming very hard to answer. What are prospective employers allowed to ask at interview? As so far I have been directly asked if I am married, if I have children and less directly why I want a part-time job rather than a full-time one. Also what is the ruling with Employment Agencies – are they allowed to ask these leading questions? I am just so worried about how an employer will judge me when he thinks I have a child – and only one child so he may be thinking I want another soon….I feel this has been an issue at a couple of interviews I have been for, and I may not have got the job due to this. Thanks for your help.
Discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, age, race etc is illegal, except in very rare circumstances which needn’t bother us now. Employers and recruitment agencies are both covered by this legislation. By extension, it’s illegal for employers and recruitment agencies to discriminate against candidates who may become pregnant at some stage in the future or who have childcare responsibiities.
Normally employers / recruitment agencies that act illegally are a bit more subtle in the way they go about it than has been your experience. Are you applying to smallish employers who don’t know what the law requires of them (or who may choose to pretend they don’t!)? That said, too many employers feel they can push the boundaries a bit in all directions now unemployment’s so high.
I suggest you take the pragmatic approach.
If you’re faced with blatant discrimination (eg an employer who asks several discriminatory questions that have nothing to do with your ability to perform the job), then fight back. Record what’s happened as soon as possible, get what supporting evidence you can and report the discriminatory behaviour to the recruiter’s seniors; also investigate how you take your case to an employment tribunal. You’re unlikely to lose much by acting this way (the recruiter’s already decided not to offer you the job) and you might even gain (eg senior managers may find a way of reversing the recruiter’s decision in the hope of avoiding the adverse publicity and compensation costs of a successful tribunal claim).
If the recruiter seems honestly unaware of having asked an illegally discriminatory question (eg he’s the boss of a tiny business and this is the first interview he’s ever done), then try to deal with it in a pleasant, determined but non-confrontational way. Your response to the question “you’re married, are you a mum as well?” asked while he’s getting you a coffee could well be to block the question with an interested, smiley “have you children?” and a quick diversion to “can we talk please about my suitability for your job … you’ll see that I was able to increase sales by 20% over a 3 year period in my previous job ..”. If the discriminatory questions persist, then you’ll have to confront (eg by looking straight at the recruiter, smiling and saying gently “now we both know that’s an illegal question – could we talk please about how I could help you improve the business’s credit control”).
Only you can judge whether you’re being asked about your interest in part-time work as a subtle way of finding about your family circumstances. I suggest you respond to questions by saying “this job appeals to me and I’m happy with the hours you’re offering”, then shut up. The recruiter will realise the potential risks of exploring the issue further and will probably decide not to do so.
Good luck. Hope you feel more confident during future interviews.