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Preventing discrimination and promoting diversity


Equality legislation in the UK helps to prevent unlawful discrimination by recruiters and employers and helps to promote diversity in the workplace. It’s important for all employers to understand the laws surrounding these issues and take positive steps to uphold correct employment procedures.

Under current employment law, it’s unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of:

  • Gender
  • Pregnancy
  • Race, ethnicity and skin colour
  • Religion or beliefs
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Employment status
  • Trade union membership

Discrimination can take many forms and can include overlooking particular candidates for vacancies or promotions based on the reasons above. It can also involve treating individuals less favourably than others or, in more extreme cases, bullying or harassing them.

All types of discrimination generally fall into the following categories:

Direct discrimination: where an employer treats an employee less favourably than another because of one of the reasons listed above. For example, if an employer will only consider male applicants for a labouring job and therefore rejects all female candidates.

Indirect discrimination: where a rule or condition of employment works against a specific group of people. For example, insisting on a young, dynamic candidate might restrict applications to people of a certain age group.

An employer may be able to make a genuine case for restricting the applications to a specific group – for example, if the vacancy is for a teacher at a faith school – the candidates may need to be of the faith in question. If the role involves serving alcohol, the applicant must be over 18.

Harassment and victimisation: such as intimidating or offensive behaviour, racist or sexist language or making someone a victim of fewer opportunities.


Avoiding discrimination in recruitment 

It’s a legal requirement to avoid discriminatory actions in a recruitment process. If a candidate feels that they’ve been discriminated against in their job application, they may be able to make an employment tribunal case against the employer.

  • Job description/person specification
    This should not contain any personal requirements that are not related to the job.
  • Job advertisements
    It is unlawful to state that candidates should be of a specific age, gender, religion, and race etc. if these things are not an occupational requirement. Equally, a job advert must not suggest an employer’s reluctance to take on an employee who has or has had a disability. It’s also best practice to avoid words and phrases that are suggestive of a certain age range. Publications who publish discriminatory job adverts can also be held liable.
  • Health and disability queries
    The Equality Act 2010 limits the questions that an employer can ask a potential candidate regarding their health or a disability. These restrictions normally apply up until the point that a job offer is made.  You can familiarise yourself on what can be asked by clicking here.
  • Applications
    Only ask for the minimum, relevant personal details in an application form. It’s good practice to save questions about personal characteristics for the diversity monitoring form which is separate from the main application.  An employer may want to check whether an applicant needs special requirements should they reach an interview stage – for example, due to mobility issues. If a disabled candidate requests the application form in a more accessible format, you should endeavour to provide this where possible.
  • Interviews
    As with the application process, the same rules apply with regard to asking personal questions and queries on health and disability. If a candidate is selected for interview and they have notified you of a disability, you should make every effort to accommodate their needs.
  • Keep records
    Should you need to justify a recruitment decision, you should keep an accurate record of the process.

Increased positive action

As of 6th April 2011, you can recruit a candidate or promote an existing employee who is of equal merit to another candidate if you reasonably believe they are part of a group that’s underrepresented in the workforce or at a disadvantage due to a particular characteristic.

Although, do bear in mind that the candidate must be of equal merit – not less suitable for the role. There must also be a justifiable way of addressing their underrepresentation and/or disadvantage.

Please see the government advice on discrimination at work for further information. You can also find detailed guides here: preventing discrimination and valuing diversity.