Citizenship off limits for employers
Citizenship debates have no place at work, unless you happen to be standing for federal office.
While debate around dual nationals in Parliament has dominated headlines in recent weeks, if an employer discusses citizenship during an interview they are probably breaking the law.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash are the latest high-profile politicians to find themselves in breach of section 44 of the constitution for holding dual nationality.
However, these cases are unique to their occupation and an exception to almost every other occupation in Australia.
Employment lawyer Henry Pill said that questions about a person’s citizenship should never be asked by employers.
‘‘State and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit questions about a persons race or nationality in the workplace,’’ Mr Pill said.
‘‘While politicians need to be asked about their citizenship status during preselection, that sort of questioning is off limits in an ordinary job interview.
‘‘Questions during interviews need to comply with anti-discrimination laws and that includes avoiding unnecessary questions about nationality, race, religion, sexuality and age.’’
A potential employer can ask if a candidate has the right to work in Australia or, if the job requires overseas travel, if a person has the right to work in that country.
Employers need to avoid asking where a person was born, what country they are from, where their parents are from and if they can state all countries they have citizenship.
Mr Pill said dealing with discriminatory interview question could be difficult for workers and jobseekers.
‘‘One option is to politely decline to answer, but it’s a good idea to make a note of the question and keep it in mind in case you need to make a claim for discrimination,’’ Mr Pill said.
‘‘Complaints can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission and each state also has an anti-discrimination commission or organisation that can assist, and you can also seek legal advice.
‘‘However, the onus should really be on employers to familiarise themselves with anti-discrimination legislation and ensure they don’t ask unlawful questions in the first place.’’
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Right Commission can be contacted on 1300 292 153 or at www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au