Too Over-qualified for the Job?.

AuthorBowal, Peter


Employers usually promise job seekers that they are looking for the most qualified workers. It is in their interests to do so. But occasionally they do not wish to hire the most qualified applicants.

What if a slow economy produces many clearly over-qualified applicants and the employer is suspicious that they will not be challenged by entry level positions. The employer already may be experiencing high turnover and will seek to avoid short-termers who are desperately seeking any employment but who are not necessarily serious about the position advertised. Over-qualified employees can be a challenge to manage when they are working at well below their experience and skill level, as well as their earning potential.

As with mismatches where the employee is decidedly under-qualified for the job, can an employer choose not to hire the over-qualified applicant?

Employer Prerogative

Applicants have no particular right to demand that any employer hire them or to be granted any job in particular. Freedom of contract and employer prerogative are the underlying theories in play. Subject to the laws against unjust discrimination, the employer is free to hire anyone it chooses, including lesser qualified applicants who might better suit the role.

The Sangha Case

Dr. Gian Singh Sangha was 51 years old when he immigrated to Canada from India in 1996. He was well educated and experienced in his field of environmental science. However, he was not able, for the first five years after arriving in Canada, to obtain a job at his level of qualification. Then he applied for one of four entry-level positions open at a Northwest Territories regulatory agency called the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.

The employer, Mackenzie, screened Sangha out in the recruitment process on the ground that he was over-qualified for the job. The agency had suffered high turnover and it assumed Sangha was more momentarily keen on the job than motivated and committed to it. After all, why would someone want to work and be paid well below their qualifications?

Since Mackenzie was a federally-regulated employer, the Canadian Human Rights Actapplied. Sangha focused upon his immigrant and ethnic status in the denial of the job opportunity. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, in Sangha v Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, surprisingly concluded on the basis of expert evidence that "the experience of applying for a job for which one is overqualified, or working in...

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