Avoiding discrimination in recruitment

If you are in a position to recruit new members of staff, employers need to ensure recruitment processes are legal and fair


There are some key things you need to know and to avoid in order to be fair and equitable when you employ new staff. 

It isn’t simply a fact of meeting your legal requirements, it is proven that businesses with a diverse workforce are more successful and productive than those with a lack of diversity.

When recruiting, it’s important to find the best person for the job. But you should also check you’re following the law on discrimination.

It’s usually against the law to discriminate against a job applicant based on any of the following, known as ‘protected characteristics’:

  • age
  • disability
  • race
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

What can help?

  • Have a clear job description. It should include the job title and purpose of the role, along with any duties and responsibilities of the position, such as whether they are required to supervise other staff and who manages them. It should make clear what knowledge, skills and experience are required for the role.
  • Use non-discriminatory language. When you advertise, base the advert on factual aspects of the position you want to fill and avoid potentially ambiguous phrases.  For instance, have you seen adverts such as ‘young and dynamic person required for…..’? This could be seen as age discrimination. How about a job advert that asks for a minimum of two years’ experience in the UK? Again, this could be interpreted as potential age discrimination, or if an overseas physio with Health and Care Professions Council registration and a work visa wanted to apply, it raises the question of race discrimination. In such cases, you would need to be able to justify why you had specified UK experience, as opposed to asking for experience and skills pertinent to the role and responsibilities of the advertised job.
  • Don’t ask questions on protected characteristics. You should not be asking whether a female applicant has or is planning on having children, or about the health of an applicant. Section 60(1) of the Equality Act 2010 prohibits employers from asking job applicants questions about their health before offering them employment (with some exceptions).
  • Think about unconscious bias. We all have preferences and biases, some are conscious, while others are unconscious, almost ‘built in’; based on our life experiences, upbringing and environment.  Common unconscious biases include those held on race, gender, age and sexuality. Take conscious actions to mitigate it. When recruiting, use a standard set of questions that apply to every candidate and focus on the skills the job requires rather than protected characteristics. Having a diverse interview panel can also assist. Be open to challenge from your colleagues about why you scored a candidate in the way you did. 
  • Making the job offer Make sure the recruitment process you follow is free from discrimination. Compare each applicant’s skills and abilities against the job description and criteria you have set and make your offer based on that, not on ‘who you could work with’.
  • Give feedback Giving constructive feedback is good practice. It can assist unsuccessful candidates when they next interview and can enhance your company’s reputation. 

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