Recruitment and Job Advertisements

Equality legislation doesn't just protect people from discrimination when they are in a job. It also applies to the recruitment and selection process, with the aim of making sure that no one is treated less favourably when applying for a job.

Equality legislation covers the entire recruitment process. For example:

  • To avoid racial discrimination, overseas qualifications which are comparable with UK qualifications should be acceptable as equivalents and not assumed to be inferior.
  • The way application forms are designed shouldn't discriminate against disabled people.
  • It would be unlawful to prefer a younger candidate in the belief that they will be 'hungry' and 'dynamic', and so perform better.

It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a candidate for a job because of their age, disability, race, belief, sexual orientation or gender in any part of the recruitment processĀ - in job descriptions, person specifications, application forms, during interviews, in tests, or in shortlisting.

Job advertisements

Job advertisements include emails, direct mail and in-company notices, as well as advertising to the general public in newspapers and on the radio, TV or internet.

No job advertisement should discriminate on the basis of any of the protected grounds, unless there is objective evidence that the discrimination is lawful. Here are a few examples:

  • Stating a preference for a man or woman in a job advertisement is unlawful sex discrimination unless the requirements of the particular job mean that it is lawful to employ only a man or a woman. Gender-specific job titles, such as 'handyman' or 'salesgirl', should therefore be avoided. It is also likely to be unlawful to use language that indirectly implies the job is suited to one sex or other.
  • Advertisements should not include age limits, unless these can be objectively justified. Avoid using words and phrases such as 'young and dynamic' or 'mature person'. These could result in a complaint of age discrimination since they suggest an employer is looking for applicants from a particular age group.
  • It could be discriminatory to restrict the advertisement of a job to a particular religious publication, since potential candidates who belong to other religious or belief groups would be much less likely to have the opportunity to see it.

The Commission can take action against employers it believes have placed discriminatory advertisements.

When discrimination in job advertisements is lawful

There are a limited set of circumstances when employers can target specific groups with advertising: for instance, if the job has a genuine occupational requirement for someone from a particular community, or if a specific community can be shown to have been under-represented in an area of work. Find out more about what the law says.


Job descriptions, person specifications and application forms shouldn't ask candidates to give unnecessary personal details or state requirements that aren't directly related to the job, such as country of birth or sexual orientation. (Such questions can be contained in monitoring forms that are separated from application forms before assessment.)

During interviews, questions about a woman's plans for starting a family, or asking an applicant whether they think that they will 'fit in' with the organisation, may also be evidence of discrimination.

However, employers can ask if candidates have disabilities so that reasonable adjustments can be made that enable them to attend interviews.

Genuine occupational requirements

There are certain circumstances where some types of discrimination can be justified and certain exceptions to the general prohibition on discrimination, which vary in respect of each of the protected grounds. For example, a care worker post may, in limited circumstances, be restricted to applicants with personal attributes such as being male or female, or having membership of a particular religious group.

It is important to remember that the exceptions are very narrow and that they will be strictly interpreted by any court or tribunal that comes to consider the case at a later date. If you believe that you have a situation which might arise within an exception, we would recommend that you take professional advice.

Positive action

Employers are allowed by law to take positive action to help redress any imbalances that may have arisen in the workplace as a result of past discrimination or disadvantage. The aim of positive action is to ensure that people from previously excluded groups have the opportunity to compete on equal terms with other applicants.

The legislation allows for measures by which people from a particular under-represented group are either encouraged to apply for jobs in which they are under-represented, or are given training to help them develop their potential to improve their chances in competing for particular work.

In practical terms this may result in a positive action programme of advertising that is specifically directed at members of a particular minority group, or providing training opportunities for women or men to help them gain employment or promotion in job sectors traditionally dominated by one sex.

Positive action is not the same as positive discrimination or affirmative action, which are both unlawful in Britain. An employer cannot try to change the balance of the workforce by selecting someone mainly because she or he is from a particular group.

It is most important to remember that, at the point of selection, all applicants must be judged equally on a job-related basis. Discrimination at the point of selection is unlawful.

Last Updated: 04 Jun 2009