The Equality Act 2010 outlaws discrimination in employment in relation to nine "protected characteristics":
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Employers must ensure that the process they use to decide who they will offer employment to is free from discrimination which includes consideration of, for example, the way in which vacancies are advertised, the arrangements for interviews and the wording of job and person specifications.
Someone who has not even applied for a job can, theoretically, bring a discrimination claim and employers can be liable for the discriminatory acts of their recruitment agents in some circumstances.
At the very least employers should:
- Identify the vacancy carefully - does the role really need to be done full time or can you be flexible around hours or place of work so as to open up the opportunity to a wider group of people including those who might have caring responsibilities that prevent them being able to work the usual 9 - 5?
- Advertise across a wide range of publications so that a wider cross section of the public have the opportunity to apply but before you advertise externally check whether there are any reasons why the role should stay ‘in house’ for example planned redundancies or a need to consider alternative employment for a sick or disabled employee.
- Use the appropriate job title - phrases like ‘office junior’ and ‘shop girl’ should be avoided as they indicate an intention to exclude certain people on the grounds of their personal (protected) characteristics.
- Focus on the skills required to carry out the role as opposed to requiring a certain number of years’ experience. If you must specify certain qualifications (such as A Levels in English and Maths) add the words ‘or equivalent’ so as to not indirectly discriminate.
- Avoid using words such as ‘energetic’, ‘active’ and ‘mature’ when preparing a person specification.
- Don’t ask applicants to provide photographs.
- Make reasonable adjustments to your entire recruitment process so that disabled people aren’t disadvantaged.
- Wherever possible use an interview panel with differing protected characteristics.
- Don’t make stereotypical assumptions about a person based on their protected characteristics.
- Remember that any notes you make during the interview process are likely to be disclosable so always be objective.
If you would like advice on any of the matters raised in this article, please contact Samantha Dickinson or Martin Williams on 01273 775533.