New legislation outlaws employment discrimination on many grounds
Many bosses are still asking inappropriate questions on application forms and in job interviews, warns the consumer group Which?
As a result their companies risk being taken to employment tribunals where they can face unlimited fines.
Which? says there is widespread confusion about what potential employers can ask interview candidates.
Previously standard questions about age, length of experience and religious views are now illegal, it points out.
The consumer group says candidates facing such queries should politely decline to answer.
According to Which?, the most commonly asked banned question is about whether someone is thinking about starting a family.
It says this kind of enquiry is simply unacceptable. The consumer group argues firms should be focusing on a person's knowledge and skills, and not making pre-conceived judgements about their age or other personal circumstances.
"Long gone are the bad old days when a nervous interviewee had to answer all sorts of questions about their lifestyle and their personal views," said Sue Tumelty, author of the Which? CV and Interview Handbook.
"As employers can't judge a candidate's ability to do the job on their age, sex or religious views, for example, they've no business asking about these things, so interviewees are in no way compelled to answer.
"It helps to be aware of what you can and cannot be asked, so that you can feel confident in - politely - declining to answer any questions that make you uncomfortable," she added.
Since October 2006 it has been illegal to discriminate against workers under the age of 65 on the grounds of age.
It is against the law to make someone redundant or to bar workers from training or promotion because they are too old - or too young.
NO GO AREAS
How old are you?
Are you married?
Are you gay?
What are your childcare arrangements?
Are you planning to start a family soon?
Are you a member of a trade union?
What political party do you support?
Under the legislation, employers cannot specify an ideal age in advertising a job, nor ask for a specific amount of experience. Application forms should not ask for an applicant's date of birth.
There are some circumstances in which candidates can be asked to provide their age, if it is what is called a "genuine occupational qualification".
For instance, the armed forces and the police have a minimum age as a standard requirement.
But in the vast majority of cases it should not be requested or supplied.
Potential employees are also protected by other legislation, including the Sex Discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act, the Employment Equality Regulations and the Disability Discrimination Act.
As a result, employers are not allowed to discriminate against job candidates on the grounds of race, beliefs, gender, religion, sexuality or disability.
As with age discrimination, the only exception is if employers can demonstrate there is an overriding genuine occupational qualification.
Job candidates who believe their rights have been infringed can take a potential employer to tribunal.
Employment tribunals can recommend various remedies and can impose a range of fines, which are unlimited where discrimination is found to have occurred.