Some employers may not be aware that job applicants are protected by discrimination laws – despite the fact that they’re not part of the business yet. But what constitutes discrimination in these circumstances? Let’s take a look…

There have been recent cases in both the UK and EU that have confirmed that job applicants who apply with the sole purpose of making a discrimination claim aren’t protected by the law. However, genuine applicants should not be treated less favourably because of any discriminatory requirements in job adverts.

Things to watch out for

Unfortunately, the rules here aren’t completely clear-cut, as there isn’t a set list of words or phrases that can’t be included in adverts – although some protected characteristics are more likely to crop up than others.

There are a number of gender-specific job titles that are likely to constitute sex discrimination and therefore shouldn’t be used, such as:

  • Bar girl
  • Waitress
  • Salesman

Instead, job titles should be gender neutral – so for example, bar staff should be used rather than barman or bar girl – unless there’s a genuine occupational need for an employee to be a certain gender. This may apply in cases such as single sex institutions, including hospitals and prisons. Even if the intention of the employer is to balance out genders in a certain department, the advert needs to be neutral to avoid breaching equality laws.

Avoiding the age mistake

Age discrimination is also an area that adverts often breach. While it may be obvious that stating an age limit is discriminatory, employers may not know that terms such as ‘youthful’ and ‘mature’ can be construed as restricting the age range of people who can apply for the role.

Alongside this, explicitly stating a certain number of years of experience can be discriminatory against those who are too young or too old to have developed this experience. To ensure this doesn’t happen, the job advert could instead require candidates to demonstrate that they’ve carried out a certain task specific to the job role, but without specifying the number of years they’re required to have been able to do this.

Indirect discrimination

While adverts can be directly discriminatory, indirect discrimination can also occur where the advert requires a certain practice or criteria to apply.

Examples of this are where the advert requires an early start date, which could discriminate against those with a disability who are unable to function this early due to medication, or a requirement to work Saturdays which could unfavourably disadvantage women with caring responsibilities. The criteria can be included in adverts, but only if there’s a genuine business reason that justifies the discriminatory effect on people with the particular protected characteristic.