When political leader Jacinda Ardern was asked about her baby plans, there was a collective cringe. Nothing makes us wave the feminist flag more than an assumed breach of human rights legislation. Certainly it's a question that Bill English hasn't been asked in a while.

It is unlawful in New Zealand for employers to ask questions about pregnancy, childcare or family plans, under the Human Rights Act 1993. You shouldn't ask questions which indicate an intention to be discriminatory, even if the job candidate has raised the issue of family responsibility.

However, anyone grappling with human rights legislation will realise how easy it is to overstep the mark.

Questions like "Tell us about your baby plans" roll off the tongue faster than "What on earth are you doing out of the kitchen?" "Hope you won't take parental leave", or "Pretty little thing would look good as PM".

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Some employers speculate how to ask questions that need to be addressed.

You know, questions like "Will you be reliable?", "Are you about to take time off work?" or "Are you sure you're the right person to lead the country?"

How to Avoid Discrimination

So, how do you avoid unlawful discrimination when hiring staff?

It's tempting to ask a candidate if they have children to check whether they will get to work on time, particularly if you've had kids who refuse to get in the car, play a fair game of truant, or have a huge habit of partying all night (and all before the age of 5).

The golden rule is to frame your questions around the requirements of the position, rather than asking for personal details which could show an intention to discriminate.
Ask for information directly relevant to the duties and responsibilities of the position.

Prying for more information than is relevant or necessary could breach the Privacy Act 1993, or lead to unconscious bias.

Let's say you're concerned whether a parent is able to perform all requirements of the role, such as working overtime or overseas travel. Rather than ask about the candidate's personal life, link your questions directly to the requirements of the position:

"The position will require you to travel to Sydney for a week in our head office once a month. Will this work for you?"

"The position requires you to work from 8 am to 5 pm, with a reasonable expectation of overtime. Will this suit you?"

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When interviewing job candidates, employers should frame questions around job requirements to avoid other grounds of unlawful discrimination, such as age, sexuality, or disability.

Fingers crossed this technique is used in the political debates.