There are many ways employers might directly and indirectly discriminate, all of which can be avoided. In the UK, equality legislation helps to prevent this and promotes diversity in the workplace. If you’re an employer, you need to have a good grasp of the laws on discrimination and work to uphold proper employment procedures.

Under current employment law, it’s illegal to discriminate on the following grounds:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Religion or beliefs
  • Race, ethnicity and skin colour
  • Pregnancy/maternity leave
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Trade union membership
  • Employment status

There are many forms of discrimination; one type of unlawful discrimination is overlooking particular candidates and employees for vacancies and promotions because of the above characteristics. Also included is; treating individuals less favourably than others and, in more extreme cases, bullying or harassing them.

Direct discrimination  

This is when an employer discriminates against someone because of one of the reasons listed above. For example, when an employer only considers young, male candidates for a job, they eliminate older male and all female candidates.

Indirect discrimination  

When an employer gives a condition that disadvantages a certain group of people. For example, having a workplace rule that employees cannot wear anything on their heads will be discriminating against people belonging to some religions.

There are certain circumstances however, where an employer may have a valid reason for restricting their application process. For example advertising a job for a recent graduate is acceptable when the position is a graduate one, but if it’s not a graduate role you would be discriminating against those who graduated many years ago.

Harassment and victimisation

When an employer restricts an employee’s exposure to promotion opportunities they are discriminating against them. Harassment and victimisation also occurs through intimidating/offensive or sexist/racist behaviour and language.

Avoiding and preventing discrimination in recruitment

If a candidate suspects or feels that they’ve discriminated against during the hiring process, they may have grounds to make an employment tribunal case against the employer. If you’re an employer you’re legally bound to avoid discriminatory actions.

Make sure you’re not directly or indirectly discriminating in the following cases.

  • Job ads: you cannot legally state, without valid reason, that candidates should be a specific range of the characteristics listed at the top of the article. Check your wording too, you may be discriminating without meaning to.
  • Person specification and job description: do not specify any personal requirements that are not essential for the job.
  • Applications: only ask for relevant details on an application form. You can supply a diversity monitoring form separately for questions about personal characteristics. However, you may want to determine whether or not a candidate that reaches the interview stage has any special requirements which need to be accommodated for, such as mobility issues.
  • Health and disability queries: the Equality Act 2010 restricts what questions employers can ask candidates concerning their health or a disability. Read the government guide to employment rights and the Equality Act 2010 for more information.
  • Interviews: only ask questions relevant to the role. If a candidate has informed you before the interview of a disability, you should do everything you can to accommodate their needs.

Keep records

You may need to justify a hiring decision if an unsuccessful candidate feels they’ve been discriminated against. Keeping records of your entire recruitment process will give you the necessary documentation to show you made a legitimate decision.

Using positive action to promote diversity

From April 2011, employers can hire or promote someone who is part of an underrepresented group and of equal merit to another candidate. However, you must reasonably believe that the group they are part of is underrepresented in your workplace and they must be of equal merit, not less than the other candidate. This also applies to candidates who are at a disadvantage due to a particular characteristic.

For more information on the matter Directgov or Business Link.

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