When you go into a job interview, there are several questions you might expect and be prepared for. Most likely, about your experience, skills and what you’ll bring to the role on offer.
But what if you were asked about your relationship status? Although it’s not your usual interview question, it’s one many women have been subjected to.
Last month, a tweet by journalist Francesca Baker went viral after she revealed she had been asked about her marital status by a potential employer.
After questioning why she was being asked, Baker was told: “Francesca, this is an online world and we need to know what your commitments are and if you're in a relationship and won't be distracted from our company.”
Just had a call for potential new job. They asked my relationship status, if I'm married or single. I asked why? 'Francesca, this is an online world and we need to know what your commitments are and if you're in a relationship and won't be distracted from our company.' Red flag?
— Francesca Baker (@andsoshethinks) November 4, 2019
It turns out it’s not all that uncommon to be asked about your relationship status in an interview, with many social media users commenting with their own experiences. So what should you do if you are asked whether you are single or not - and is it even legal?
“The most important question to ask here is ‘is it relevant’? On what business grounds does an employer feel they have the right to determine how suitable someone is depending on their relationship status?” says John Palmer, senior guidance editor at Acas, which provides information and advice to employers and employees on workplace relations and employment law.
“It is rarely going to be a good or even an appropriate thing for an interviewer to ask, when they should instead be focussing on the relevant skills and experience a candidate can offer.”
Moreover, asking about or checking up on a candidate’s relationship status may breach GDPR regulations and/or discrimination legislation including that around marriage and civil partnerships, Palmer adds. “The Human Rights Act also provides protections in this area around privacy and family life,” he says.
Ruby Dinsmore, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, adds it is common for women to be asked discriminatory questions about their marital status.
“An interviewer should never ask a potential employee about their relationship status or whether they plan to have children in the future,” she says. “Your relationship status has no bearing on your ability to do the job or your skill set, however, this behaviour is sadly not uncommon even in this day and age.
“Many women are subjected to these types of questions in interviews, particularly when in their 30’s, due to the assumption that they may plan to start a family soon as some employers wrongly believe they won’t be so committed to the role long term.
“We hear many stories of women feeling uncomfortable as they try to avoid these types of questions, which some even saying they are single or removing their engagement or wedding rings before entering an interview room.”
So if you find yourself in this situation, what should you do? First of all, being asked inappropriate questions by a potential employer is a big red flag. A job interview is often the first impression a candidate has of a company - and you may be more likely to be treated unfairly because of your gender or other factors if you do end up working there.
You might also consider calmly telling the interviewer that you don’t consider the question to be relevant or appropriate. You shouldn’t be asked if you have children or not either. An interviewer can ask if the work schedule suits you, and then you will have the opportunity to tell them if it does or doesn’t work.
“If an interviewer is going down this route of questioning and the candidate suspects they have been over looked for the role, they could have grounds to launch a sex discrimination or marriage and civil partnership discrimination claim against the prospective employer,” Dinsmore says.
According to research by Slater & Gordon, nearly one in three UK bosses admit they have or would reject a female job applicant because they suspect she ‘might start a family soon’. Although this form of employment discrimination is unlawful, 15% anonymously admitted that they had broken sex discrimination laws.
Shockingly, the research also showed 37% of bosses admitted they would advertise positions for men only if the law allowed, with 40% saying they perceived men as being more committed to their jobs.
“To discriminate against someone on their grounds of their marriage and civil partnership status, or as a mother or expecting mother or on their sexual orientation is against the law,” Dinsmore adds. “All employers, irrespective of their size and sector, must adhere to the Equality Act, it is as simple as that.”