Interviews, meetings and tests
An interview, meeting or test can help an employer work out if someone is the best person for the job.
Equality law does not say that an employer has to meet someone or interview them before offering them a job.
If an employer does decide to interview you and other job applicants, whether that is face to face or over the phone, or to give you and other applicants a test, then they must not unlawfully discriminate against you in the way they carry out the meeting, interview or test.
Use the list in Avoiding direct and indirect discrimination to make sure you know what equality law says your employer must do to avoid unlawful discrimination.
Examples of what an employer should avoid doing include:
- asking you questions which make assumptions about you based on your protected characteristics
- harassing you.
An employer makes a series of unpleasant ‘jokes’ about an applicant’s race, which create an offensive atmosphere for them.
If you are a disabled person
If you are a disabled person and have said that you need adjustments for the interview, meeting or test, and those adjustments are reasonable adjustments, then the employer 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.
An employer only needs to make adjustments once they know, or could reasonably be expected to know, that a disabled person is or may be applying for the job.
Once an employer knows that or should have known it, they must take steps to find out whether you need any adjustments and what those adjustments are. This means an employer will need to make sure that all of the interview arrangements allow you 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, 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 an employer has not asked whether you need adjustments or if you have not told the employer in advance, the employer must still make the adjustments that you need when you arrive, if it is reasonable to do so.
However, if you did not tell the employer, even though they asked, what is reasonable for an employer to do may be different from what would have been reasonable for them to do with more notice.
An applicant does 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.
An employer must not change the decision to interview you because when you arrive they discover you are a disabled person. Nor should they change the way they interview you, for example, by cutting the interview short or not testing you in the same way as other applicants (unless the change to the interview is a reasonable adjustment).
An employer may need to be flexible or to make changes to the dates or times of interviews to avoid unlawful discrimination, particularly indirect discrimination if they 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.
If you are only offered one day and time for an interview or test and you cannot attend then, ask for a different one. But you don't have to tell the employer why you need a different time.
An employer must not ask questions about your protected characteristics unless these are very clearly related to the job (for example, because one of the exceptions applies).
If an employer decides not to employ you just because of a protected characteristic, unless it comes within the exceptions, this would be direct discrimination.
- In particular, an employer must not ask you questions about health or disability, including about your sickness absence record. The only exception to this is if the answer to the question would mean an employer would know whether or not you can carry out an intrinsic or absolutely fundamental function of the job with reasonable adjustments in place. An employer has a duty to consider reasonable adjustments if your answer reveals that these are necessary.
A better approach is for the employer to ask you whether you have the relevant skills, qualities and experience to do the job, not about your health or about any disability you may have.
If an employer does ask you questions you think they should not be asking, it may be difficult for you to refuse to answer, although you could do so. Answer as best you can, and then make a note of the questions once the interview has finished. This means that if you believe you have been discriminated against and want to do something about it, you will have a record of what happened which you have made soon afterwards.
It is a myth that equality law says an employer must ask you and everyone else exactly the same questions. There is no reason why an employer cannot ask you about things that are different about your application or follow up your answers with questions that relate to what you have just said. However, they should be focusing on the same broad subject areas with each applicant. This is because otherwise the employer may be applying different standards to different applicants based on their protected characteristics, and this might lead to unlawful discrimination.
If an employer asks you to do a test of some sort to help them decide who the best person for the job is, they should not use a test to discriminate unlawfully against you.
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 an employer does set a test and it is only available for applicants to carry out at a set time on a set day, the employer should avoid religious festivals or holy days or times of religious observance so far as they can. Unless an employer 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 applicants who are followers of the affected religion or belief than on those who are not. Those applicants may not be able to take the test at all, ruling them out from consideration for the job.
If you are a disabled person
An employer should tell you in advance if you will be expected to take a test and give you an outline of what will be involved. This is because, if you are a disabled person and are not told in advance about a test, this may disadvantage you because it does not give you a chance to ask for reasonable adjustments. This may stop you being able to compete on the same terms as other applicants.
You should not be disadvantaged because of your 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. This is the right
However, an employer does not have to adapt a test to the point where it no longer tests whether you would be able to do the job or not (taking into account any reasonable adjustments that would enable you to do the job).
If the interview process or assessment includes a social gathering where only alcohol is available, this may disadvantage an applicant 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 an employer is providing food, the same is true of applicants with specific dietary needs based on religion or belief or disability.
An employer should ask in advance if you have any specific dietary requirements because of religion or belief or disability and make sure that soft drinks or an alternative meal can be provided. If the employer does not do this, it puts you at a disadvantage – because you cannot join in the same way as other applicants and this may lead to your being regarded as unfriendly or not willing to mix. This may be indirect discrimination because of religion or belief or disability unless the employer can objectively justify it.
Last Updated: 20 Jan 2015