Although employers may be reluctant to hire applicants who
appear "overqualified," the exclusion of
overqualified applicants from consideration during the hiring
process may amount to discrimination. By rejecting candidates
solely on the basis that they are overqualified for a position,
employers may face liability for, among other things, lost
wages and damages for pain and suffering.
In Sangha v. Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board,
the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal was asked to determine
whether the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board had
discriminated against Dr. Gian Sangha when they refused to hire
him for one of four Regulatory Officer positions. Although his
credentials far exceeded the job requirements, Dr. Sangha
applied for a position with the Board in order to gain valuable
Canadian work experience, as he had had difficulty obtaining
permanent employment in his field since his arrival to Canada
The Board granted interviews to twelve candidates, including
Dr. Sangha, and the interview scores he received ranked him
higher than most of the other candidates. Despite these scores,
the hiring committee decided not to offer a position to Dr.
Sangha on the basis that he was overqualified. The committee
believed he would not find the Regulatory Officer position
challenging, and that he would quickly look for other
In its February 24, 2006 decision, the Tribunal held that
the Board's refusal to hire Dr. Sangha discriminated
against him on the basis of national or ethnic origin.
According to the Tribunal, the experience of applying for a job
for which one is overqualified is disproportionately an
immigrant experience, as immigrants are often excluded from the
"higher rungs" of the job market due to barriers to
employment at this level. Therefore, although a rule against
the hiring of overqualified candidates may appear to be
"neutral," since it applies equally to all
overqualified candidates, such a rule has a discriminatory
effect upon overqualified immigrant candidates who are forced
to seek employment where their qualifications exceed the job
The Tribunal ordered the Board to revise its hiring
practices and to pay damages of $9,500 for pain and suffering,
but dismissed Dr. Sangha's claim for reinstatement and
compensation for lost wages, stating that there had not been a
"serious possibility of [Dr. Sangha] acquiring the
job." On judicial review, however, the Federal Court of
Canada overturned the Tribunal's finding on this issue,
stating that the Tribunal erred in concluding that Dr. Sangha
would not likely have acquired the job. According to the Court,
there was ample evidence that he was denied the position
because he was overqualified. The Court has thus remitted this
matter to the Tribunal for reconsideration, and it remains to
be determined whether an award of compensation for lost wages
will be made in this case.
As the practice of excluding overqualified applicants from
consideration during the hiring process may give rise to
allegations of discrimination, it is important for employers to
review their hiring policies and practices accordingly.
Employers are encouraged to conduct structured interviews, and
to directly inquire into the candidate's motives for
applying for a job if concerns are raised that his or her
credentials far exceed the job requirements.
The content of this article is intended to provide a
general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should
be sought about your specific circumstances.
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