National Inclusion Week: How to avoid discrimination when hiring

Posted on September 30, 2022
Posted by Marion Kennedy

How to avoid discrimination when hiringThis week is National Inclusion Week, an annual promotion encouraging businesses to be inclusive and consider the benefits of a diverse workforce. Having a diverse, inclusive work culture helps your employees feel comfortable and confident to be themselves, and work in a way that both suits them and delivers your business or service needs. This kind of workplace is important because a wealth of experiences and perspectives drives innovation, development, and engagement. There are lots of things you can do to improve the inclusivity of your workplace, and an important place to start is to take a detailed look at your hiring process, including how to avoid discrimination when hiring.

To avoid discrimination when hiring, you’ll need to know about:

  1. How to write a non-discriminatory job advert;
  2. What ‘protected characteristics’ are;
  3. Monitoring diversity and equality during recruitment; and
  4. Differences between internal and external hiring.

How to avoid discrimination when hiring

Writing a job advert

How to write a job advert is largely up to you, but you’ll need to make sure you include enough information to attract the right candidates. As a minimum, you should include:

  1. the job title, name of the organisation, and the main aspects of the role such as location and type of contract;
  2. information about how applicants should apply, and when the closing date for applications is; and
  3. a link to your Staff recruitment privacy notice.

Consider also including:

  1. a job description for the role (see Job description – junior staff or Job description – senior staff for a template);
  2. a Person specification;
  3. information about the ethos and workplace culture of your business; and
  4. information about pay and benefits.

You mustn’t state that your job is only open to candidates who are, or aren’t, union members, or discriminate against candidates based on ‘protected characteristics’. See below for guidance on what these are, and examples of the kind of common phrases used in job adverts that can be discriminatory.

Being aware of ‘protected characteristics’

Having a ‘protected characteristic’ means you have a right not to be treated less favourably, or subjected to an unfair disadvantage, because of that characteristic. To avoid discrimination when hiring you need to be aware of the current list of protected characteristics:

  1. age;
  2. disability;
  3. gender reassignment;
  4. marriage and civil partnership;
  5. pregnancy and maternity;
  6. race;
  7. religion or belief; and
  8. sex or sexual orientation.

When writing a job advert, bear in mind the following to avoid discrimination when hiring:

  • The job description shouldn’t state that it involves a certain task if that task isn’t in practice part of the job role. For example, a job description which requires ‘regular Sunday working’ might dissuade Christians who don’t want to work on Sundays from applying. If in reality Sunday working is only required from time to time, you could be indirectly discriminating.
  • Avoid terms like ‘dinner lady’ or ‘young candidate’, as these could indicate you will choose your employee based on gender and/or age.
  • If a task could be performed in more than one way, avoid specifying a particular method as this may discriminate against people who could perform the function but not in that specific way. Remember you are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of disabled staff.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission advises that you shouldn’t specify working hours or working patterns that aren’t necessary. A job description that specifies a full-time role when it could actually be performed part-time could discriminate against women who are more likely to need the flexibility due to childcare responsibilities.
  • Don’t describe too narrowly what skills or qualifications are required. People from overseas probably won’t have UK-based qualifications, and older candidates are unlikely to have modern qualifications. Help avoid this issue by making clear you’ll accept equivalent qualifications.
  • Unless it can be objectively justified for the job, you mustn’t include a health, fitness or other physical requirement as this could be discrimination against disabled individuals or other applicants with protected characteristics. Except in very limited circumstances, it is unlawful to ask an applicant about their disability or health status until after they have been offered a job.
  • You are only permitted to specify certain characteristics if you have a legitimate and reasonable occupational requirement to do so. You must be careful if you intend to include one of the protected characteristics listed in your job advert and if in any doubt, seek legal advice. You can access a specialist lawyer in a few simple steps using our Ask a Lawyer service.

If ethnic minorities are under-represented in your workforce, you may state that you specifically welcome applications from ethnic minority candidates (although not to the exclusion of other candidates) as a voluntary positive action.

Monitoring diversity and equality during recruitment

You don’t have to monitor diversity and equality during recruitment, but many businesses choose to. You can use an equality and diversity monitoring form to build a picture of who is applying to your organisation and to keep equality of opportunity within your business under review.

To ensure anonymity, your equality and diversity monitoring form should be sent out to applicants (not attached to your application form but sent out separately, like by email on receipt of a job application). Avoid asking for details that could easily identify a particular candidate. See our Q&A for further guidance on how to use these types of forms. 

How to avoid discrimination when hiring: internal and external advertising

To avoid discrimination when hiring, you’ll need to think about where you want to advertise your job, whether internally within your business alone, or open the recruitment process up to external applicants too. It is usually advisable to do both.

Advertising internally

Advertising internally is advantageous because it is more cost-effective than external advertisement, and will likely boost the morale of the workforce if good opportunities are offered to existing staff. If you advertise internally, you should:

  1. do so openly so that everyone in your organisation has the opportunity to apply;
  2. ensure that absent staff (including those on maternity leave or sick leave) are informed of any vacancies; and
  3. note that agency workers are entitled to the same opportunities to find permanent work within your business as other staff.

However, limiting your recruitment methods exclusively to internal advertisement limits the pool of potential candidates. This in turn can lead to discrimination and a lack of diversity. It is therefore generally important to advertise widely so you can select staff from a wider and more diverse pool.

Advertising externally

When advertising externally, you’ll need to consider the best way of reaching potential job applicants for your business. The following methods each have advantages and disadvantages:

  • Internet (online job boards, professional networking sites, social media) and print media (like the job section of a newspaper)
    • Relatively cheap, but the selection of where to advertise a vacancy can affect the calibre of the candidates that are attracted.
  • Word of mouth (like a referral scheme with existing staff)
    • This may attract candidates who are high calibre and who may be a good fit with the organisation, but carries a risk of discrimination because you are limiting your search to the family, friends and acquaintances of your current staff.
  • Recruitment agencies
    • Expensive, but may be the most appropriate if the role is particularly important and finding the right candidate is the priority.

To avoid the risk of age discrimination by using only external channels aimed at certain age groups, ACAS recommends advertising a role using at least two different channels.

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