How to avoid discrimination in recruitment

You're hiring people for their skills and experience

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jul 19, 2024

The Equality Act 2010 states that discrimination in recruitment and selection of employees is illegal.

But, recruitment discrimination is still a real issue.

So it's up to you to make sure that your business does not discriminate against anyone when you're hiring new staff.

When you're hiring, you want to interview the best applicants out there. With an inclusive recruitment policy, you'll get more high-quality CVs coming in.

Here are our tips for you to avoid recruitment discrimination.

Decide what the job role needs from your applicants

What essential criteria does a person need to do this job?

Think about:

  • Fluency in a particular language.
  • Level of education.
  • Knowledge of, or skill in, a role.
  • The right to work in the country.

If someone doesn't tick all of these boxes, you don't need to include them in your shortlist.

Next, know your desirable criteria. A person doesn't need the following to do the job, but having them could help:

  • Speaking a second language to a passable standard.
  • A number of years' experience.
  • Certifications within the industry.
  • More experience than what you're looking for.
  • Membership in a group or union that could give them added knowledge or skill.

Protected characteristics

Rejecting and progressing applicants based on the essential and desirable criteria listed above is fine. But rejecting somebody due to any of the following is discrimination:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Everyone has a different makeup of these characteristics. And a person doesn't need to have all nine.

Discrimination in recruitment cases

Unfortunately, as we said earlier, this subject is still a real issue in the workplace. Many women have experienced sex discrimination or discrimination due to maternity or pregnancy.

In another instance, a recruitment agency cost a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver a job after illegally discriminating against him because of his nationality.

Are there any times when discrimination during recruitment is okay?

The "occupational requirements" exists for when the nature of a job acts as a reason for choosing one person over another based on their protected characteristics.

For example, if you're hiring someone to work in a refuge for victims of domestic violence, you might seek applicants of the same sex as the victims.

If you put an occupational requirement like this in your job ad, it must be necessary, not desirable.

Advertise to everyone

We've talked in our other guides about the best external recruitment methods. The first thing you need is an ad that lures the talent to you.

Discriminatory advertising is illegal. Don't do it and you'll save yourself from paying a hefty fine.

In your ad, focus on the skills and experience that the role needs. Don't use language that could restrict anyone from applying.

For example, "barmaid" suggests that men can't apply.

Select those who fit your needs

You know your criteria. Your ad is out there. And now you're getting CVs.

Make a shortlist of all the applicants you're going to interview. Here's our complete guide to selecting candidates.

Job interview discrimination

You must not ask questions that candidates can perceive as discriminatory. Don't ask a question if it focuses on someone's protected characteristics.

So, don't ask a woman if she's pregnant. Don't ask her if she plans to have children.

Don't assume anything because of certain actions or behaviours. For example, if a candidate doesn't shake your hand, don't take offence. Their culture might place certain restrictions on handshakes.

When you ask questions to assess essential criteria, you should ask the same questions of all candidates. After someone answers your set questions, feel free to ask them follow-up questions that are unique to their answer. This way, you're giving all applicants the chance to show you why they're the best person for the job.

The candidate might be nervous, but if they've got the skills you want, it shouldn't affect your decision.

Making an offer

With the interviews done, it's time to whittle your shortlist down to the winning candidate. Make sure you only focus on how well they suit the job criteria.

Record your reasons for choosing your successful applicant. This will give you a benchmark for when you're hiring for similar roles in the future.

Generally, only once you make someone a job offer can you ask them about their health or disabilities. And you should do so in a positive way. For example, what adjustments could you make to your workplace or their workstation for them to be successful in their role if they accept the offer?

Feedback for the unsuccessful

It's good practice to let an applicant know that you won't be making them an offer. It can also help them if you give them some feedback on why they didn't make the cut.

As long as you've done your recruitment properly, your reason(s) will relate to how they stacked up against your criteria. Constructive feedback about what they lacked, or how they can improve, will help them with their future job hunt.

Another way to soften the blow of rejection after you've given them feedback is to invite them to apply for future vacancies.

You might find that a year later when they apply for a new vacancy, they're more experienced and ready for the role.

Don't forget, your applicants are interviewing you, too

Under the Equality Act 2010, you must treat everyone with fairness, respect, and dignity.

Given that many job-hunters apply to more than one job, and often get more than one offer, you want your business to stand out as a worthy place to work. Remember what people say about first impressions.

Thea Watson

Chief International Growth and Marketing Officer

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