Asking recruits to be ‘happy’ is not discrimination

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has conceded that it was wrong to advise a hair salon to take down a job description which required recruits to be ‘happy’.

The situation arose when Alison Birch, the owner of a unisex hair salon, advertised for a new staff member through the Find a Job service, a website for the advertising of new roles. The advert was asking for a part-time hairdresser who was expected to be fully qualified, have previous experience working in a salon and, crucially, that only ‘happy, friendly’ stylists should apply.

After the advert was posted, Ms Birch was contacted by Find a Job, who advised her that the advert was discriminatory. The reason given was that the requirement to be ‘happy’ served to discriminate against recruits, as they could have felt they were unable to apply for the job because they did not consider themselves a ‘happy’ person.

Following this conversation, Ms Birch refused to alter the wording and demanded instead that Find a Job take the advert off their site. This complaint was later heard by the DWP, who run the Find a Job service. In response, they have since agreed that the word ‘happy’ was not discriminatory and, as such, have offered to repost the original advert.

This rather interesting story is garnering a lot of press attention, however, it is important to remember that it does remind employers of the care they need to take when constructing job adverts. The Employment Statutory Code of Practice explains that adverts should not include any wording that suggests that the employer may directly discriminate against a job applicant because of a protected characteristic.

Although the DWP rescinded their original stance, this story has raised some questions about how an employment tribunal may assess the case if a claimant felt they had been discriminated against by the requirement to be “happy”. Whilst the word on its own is not discriminatory, this requirement could arguably have denied opportunities for those with a disability, such as mental health conditions like depression, who could have felt it difficult to always display themselves as noticeably ‘happy’.

Until such a case was brought, it would be difficult to know how the law would be applied.

It is vital that employers carefully consider all language used when constructing a job advertisement, in light of the provisions of the Statutory Code of Practice, to make sure it does not serve to discriminate against anyone on the basis of a protected characteristic. Adverts should be approved by more than one person and feedback taken seriously. Candidates can also be asked if there is any part of the recruitment process, such as the advert wording, that made them feel they were placed at a disadvantage.

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