Job Interviews and the Risks of Asking Off the Cuff Discriminatory Questions

Questions asked of job applicants at interview should be carefully considered in advance and formulated with the benefit of legal advice. In one case where that signally did not happen, a 67-year-old man who was turned down for a park attendant's job succeeded in an age discrimination claim (James v Coedffranc Community Council).

The man was one of 13 people who had applied for the local authority post and was considered one of the two strongest candidates. Whilst two members of the panel asked candidates the same set of questions, the third member was free to ask questions that seemed relevant to her, perhaps picking up on an earlier answer and asking for further information about that.

The unsuccessful candidate claimed that the third member of the interview panel had commented, "I've just noticed how old you are," before asking him, "How's your health anyway?" He had driven away from the interview with a growing sense of injustice and, after failing to win appointment to the post, swiftly lodged a complaint with an Employment Tribunal (ET).

In upholding his claim, the ET accepted his account of the interview and that he had felt his chances of appointment were good until the atmosphere of the interview was changed by the panel member's age-related comments. The local authority had not been able to prove that the decision had nothing to do with his age, leading to the ET's conclusion that his advancing years had certainly been a factor in his rejection.

The ET's ruling opened the way for the man to seek compensation. However, in the light of its decision, he reached a settlement with the local authority.