Unlawful adverts jeopardise job opportunities says Commission

Published: 02 Mar 2016

Thousands of people could be at risk of being denied jobs and services each year due to unlawful, discriminatory adverts, the Equality and Human Rights Commission warns today.

Complaints about adverts which discriminate against older workers or on the basis of sex appear the most common but people are also being prevented from having a fair shot at work opportunities because of their disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other characteristics, according to evidence gathered by the Commission.

Scores of complaints about allegedly discriminatory advertisements reveal that many businesses are breaching laws designed to allow fair and open access to jobs and services – often without realising it. As a result, the Commission is today publishing a series of short guides and checklists for those who place and publish adverts to help them advertise in line with equality legislation. This is designed to dispel confusion and misunderstanding about the law.

In a little over a year, the Commission has received more than a hundred complaints that adverts were discriminatory. These included:

  • Sex or age discrimination by seeking 'young' or female workers, where this was not a necessary requirement for the job. This included an advert for a ‘Saturday boy' to work in a garage, and a bar looking for a 'part-time shot girl'.
  • Age discrimination by a recruitment agency stating that those over 45s need not apply, and by a club advertising salsa classes 'not suitable for people over 60' in a local paper.
  • Race discrimination by recruitment agencies advertising solely in foreign languages - such as vacancies for taxi drivers only advertised in Polish; or conversely restricting a general warehouse position to UK passport-holders.
  • Sexual orientation discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when casting agencies were asked to supply only homosexual applicants to work as extras in a television programme featuring a Gay Pride story. In reality these roles should have been open to all.
  • Disability discrimination by a hotel advertising that it would not offer accommodation to disabled people.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'It is important that everyone has a fair shot at the job they want. Thousands of people may be losing out through misunderstanding and discrimination. We risk squandering talent and hampering economic growth if we don’t dispel widespread misunderstanding of the law. The high volume of complaints we receive each year shows employers and service providers have sometimes opened themselves to potentially costly legal action. This is usually as a result of confusion about what is and isn't permitted by equality legislation. This clear and brief guidance answers the questions people often ask us and should help keep everybody on the right side of the law. It will also help ensure no-one is unfairly barred from job opportunities or from accessing services because of who they are. Tackling discrimination and ending confusion will not just help prevent businesses breaking the law – it will create more opportunities to unlock talent and help drive Britain's economic growth.'

The Commission, in its statutory role to promote fairness and help companies comply with equality law, looked into many of these individual complaints and worked to find solutions which were not discriminatory.
The guidance covers situations where services may be targeted at particular groups. These include women only swimming sessions; membership of private members clubs; and the letting of accommodation. It explains the circumstances where targeted recruitment advertising may be allowed because the job genuinely requires it, such as the provision of intimate social care.

The guides also explain that the Equality Act applies to anyone who creates and places an advert and those who publish it in print, online or in local shops. Both advertiser and publisher are potentially liable if a discriminatory advert is published. Online publishing platforms can also be held liable if they fail to remove any discriminatory adverts once they are made aware of them.


Notes to editors