Interviews, meetings and tests
An interview, meeting or test can help you work out if someone is the best person for the job. But it will be harder to work this out if you do not assess everyone in a way that helps you:
- find out if they have the skills, qualities and experience to make them the best person for the job, and
- assess each applicant in the same way.
Equality law does not say that you have to meet someone or interview them before offering them a job.
If you decide to interview job applicants, whether that is face to face or over the phone, or to give them a test, then you must not unlawfully discriminate against a job applicant in the way you carry out the meeting, interview or test.
Use the information earlier in this guide to make sure you know what equality law says you must do as an employer.
Examples of what to avoid include:
- Asking questions which make assumptions about people based on their protected characteristics.
An employer asks a woman if she is going to need time off for family responsibilities, when they do not ask a man.
- Harassing an applicant.
An employer makes a series of unpleasant ‘jokes’ about an applicant’s race, which create an offensive atmosphere for them.
If an applicant is a disabled person and has said that they need adjustments for the interview, meeting or test, and those adjustments are reasonable adjustments, then you must make them.
An applicant for a job with an employer has a hearing impairment which means
that they use a textphone. The employer has asked applicants to take part in a telephone interview. The applicant tells the employer in advance that they will be using a textphone and the UK Text Relay Service, and the employer interviews them in this way. The employer has made a reasonable adjustment.
You only need to make adjustments if you know, or could reasonably be expected to know, that a disabled person is or may be applying for the job. Once you know that or should have known it, you must take steps to find out whether the job applicant needs any adjustments and what those adjustments are. This means you will need to make sure that all of the interview arrangements allow the person to attend and participate effectively, provided these are reasonable adjustments.
An applicant with a hearing impairment informs the employer that they use a combination of hearing aids and lip reading but will need to be able to see the interviewer’s face clearly. The interviewer makes sure that their face is well lit, that they face the applicant when speaking, that they speak clearly and are prepared to repeat questions if the applicant does not understand them. These are likely to be reasonable adjustments for the employer to have to make.
If you have not asked whether an applicant needs an adjustment or if an applicant has not told you in advance, you must still make any adjustment that the applicant needs when they arrive. This is provided you know they are disabled and need an adjustment and that it is reasonable for you to make the adjustment. However what is reasonable for you to do if you were not warned in advance, despite having asked the applicant may be different from what would have been reasonable with more notice.
An applicant did not tell an employer they need level access because of a mobility impairment. When they arrive, there are steps to the interview room and no lift. The employer is unable to move rooms at short notice but asks them to attend another day when a room with level access will be available. This is likely to be a reasonable adjustment.
You must not change the decision to interview an applicant because when they arrive you discover they are a disabled person. Nor should you change the way you interview them, for example, by cutting the interview short or not testing them in the same way as other applicants (unless the change to the interview is a reasonable adjustment).
You may need to be flexible or to make changes to the dates or times of interviews to avoid unlawful discrimination, particularly indirect discrimination if you cannot objectively justify what you are doing, or a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
An employer only offers applicants for a job one time for interviews. A disabled person with a mobility impairment is told to attend at 9am, even though they have asked for a time which allows them to travel on public transport outside the rush hour and explained why. This is likely to be a failure by the employer to make a reasonable adjustment.
An employer only offers applicants for a job one time for interview. One applicant is an observant Muslim who cannot attend at midday on Friday. Unfortunately, this is the only time they are offered for their interview. Unless the employer can objectively justify the lack of flexibility, this may be indirect discrimination because of religion or belief.
You must not ask questions about someone’s protected characteristics unless these are very clearly related to the job (for example, because one of the exceptions applies).
If you decide not to employ someone just because of a protected characteristic, unless it comes within the exceptions, this would be direct discrimination.
- In particular, you must not ask questions about health or disability, including about someone’s sickness absence record. There are some very limited exceptions to this which you can read about in Occupational requirements. One exception is if the answer to the question would mean you would know if a person can carry out an intrinsic or absolutely fundamental function of the job with reasonable adjustments in place. You have a duty to consider reasonable adjustments if the answer reveals that these are necessary.
Instead, ask questions about whether the applicant has the relevant skills, qualities and experience to do the job, not about their health or about any disability they may have.
It is a myth that equality law says you must ask everyone exactly the same questions. There is no reason for you not to ask about things that are different for a particular candidate, or follow up an applicant's answers with questions that relate to what they have just said. However, you should be focusing on the same broad subject areas with each applicant. This is because otherwise you may be applying different standards to different applicants based on their protected characteristics, and this might lead to unlawful discrimination.
If you ask applicants to do a test of some sort to help you decide who the best person for the job is, you should not use a test to discriminate unlawfully against an applicant.
An employer sets a test for applicants for jobs which tests their ability to use a computer. This is directly related to the job. However, they decide only to put people through the test after they have seen them in interview. The employer decides that people who appear over 40 will not be asked to take the test. This is direct discrimination because of age and will be unlawful unless the employer can objectively justify it.
An employer decides to make applicants for jobs take a test of their written English, even though the job does not require a person to have good written English. This test is harder for some people to pass because of their protected characteristics, for example, some people for whom English is not their first language. An applicant was born outside the UK and is fluent in spoken English but less confident in written English. Unless the employer can objectively justify making them take this test (which is unlikely if it does not relate to the job), it may be indirect discrimination because of race; it disadvantages that applicant and other people who share their protected characteristic, in this case, having a different national origin.
If you do set a test and it is only available for applicants to carry out at a set time on a set day, you should avoid religious festivals or holy days or times of religious observance as far as you can. Unless you can objectively justify the requirement for all applicants to take the test at that particular time, this may be indirect discrimination because of religion or belief. This is because it has a worse impact on people who are followers of the affected religion or belief than on those who are not, because they may not be able to take the test at all, ruling them out from consideration for the job.
Recruiting disabled people
When application forms are sent out, or at the shortlisting stage, tell applicants if they will be expected to take a test.Give them an outline of what will be involved and ask whether they require any reasonable adjustments. This is because, if an applicant is a disabled person and is not told in advance about a test, this may disadvantage them because it does not give them a chance to ask for reasonable adjustments. Even if the applicant does not tell you they are disabled or ask for any adjustments, if this becomes clear once they arrive for the test, you still need to make any adjustments which are reasonable. Otherwise they may be prevented from being able to compete on the same terms as other applicants.
Applicants should not be disadvantaged because of their disability by the content and timing of a test.
An employer allows an applicant extra time for a written test because they have severe dyslexia. They also provide them with a computer, having checked with them what adjustments they need and accepted that they are reasonable adjustments.
However, you do not have to adapt a test to the point where it no longer tests whether someone would be able to do the job or not (taking into account any reasonable adjustments that would enable the disabled person to do the job).
If the interview process or assessment includes a social gathering where only alcohol is available, this may disadvantage someone whose religion forbids association with alcohol, for example, members of some Christian denominations and Muslims or people who for a reason related to their disability cannot drink alcohol.
If you are providing food, the same is true of applicants with specific dietary needs based on religion or belief or disability.
Ask in advance and make sure that soft drinks or an alternative meal can be provided. If you do not do this, it puts these applicants at a disadvantage – because they cannot join in the same way as other applicants and this may lead to them being regarded as unfriendly or not willing to mix – which may be indirect discrimination because of religion or belief or disability unless you can objectively justify it.
Equality good practice: what you can do if you want to do more than equality law requires
- The interview or meeting is probably the first time you have seen the applicant or heard them over the phone. Be careful not to make instant, personal and sometimes unfair judgements about someone’s suitability because of a protected characteristic. Focus on finding out if they have the skills, qualities and experience needed to do the job.
- Don’t ask questions either directly or indirectly related to applicants’ protected characteristics. This is because this information is highly unlikely to be relevant to whether someone has the skills to do the job or not and may suggest to an applicant that you intend to discriminate, putting you at risk of a tribunal claim.
- Have more than one person to do the interviewing, as this can help avoid unintentional bias against people with particular protected characteristics.
- Whether or not it is not necessary to avoid unlawful discrimination, be flexible over the date and time of the interview or test and give adequate notice; this will help applicants who may have particular family responsibilities or requirements of religious observance. It will also be helpful to some disabled candidates who may need reasonable adjustments in relation to the timing of the interview or test.
- Keep a record of the interview, and keep the notes for 12 months. If an applicant wants to complain, they are entitled to see the notes. This could be important evidence to show that you have not discriminated.
- Ask similar job-related questions of all the applicants, although this does not stop you asking an applicant about a particular aspect of their past experience or about a gap in their work record.
- If you set a test, make sure that the test relates to the requirements of the job. Tests should test an applicant’s ability to do the job or to be trained for it, taking into account any reasonable adjustments which would enable a disabled person to do the job. If you test anything else, then there is a risk that you will be basing your decision on information which unnecessarily disadvantages people with particular protected characteristics.
Don’t ask questions which may suggest that you have already decided they are the wrong person for the job because of their protected characteristics. For example, saying ‘Don’t you think you’re a bit young for this job?’
Ask questions which relate to the job.
Last Updated: 20 Jan 2015