Keep Calm and Don’t Ask the Wrong Questions

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The Equality Act 2010 identifies nine protected characteristics that you cannot discriminate against: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. This applies to your current employees as well as job applicants.

Employers need to ensure that every stage of the recruitment process follows anti-discrimination guidelines. Carefully maneuvering your way through this legislation is essential or you are at risk of having a claim brought against you.

Carefully worded job advertisements and job descriptions are key to setting the stage for a fair playing field and should be followed right through to the interview stage. The interview is an opportunity for the employer to gauge whether the candidate possesses the right skills and personal qualities to be successful in the role as well as a good fit within the organization. However, creating an environment that they are relaxed in can also get you into hot water as innocent, scene setting questions can get too personal. Interviewers need to tread carefully and avoid any questions that can be perceived as discriminatory.

Here are a few that should definitely be avoided:
  • where were you born?
  • do you plan to have children?
  • what are your current childcare arrangements?
  • when did you leave school?
  • do you have a criminal record?
  • do you observe any religious holidays?
  • how many days were you off sick in your last job?
  • how much do you weigh?
  • do you have any disabilities?
  • are you married?
Some of those examples are obviously off limits but getting the relevant information from the candidate can often come close to crossing a line. So what are the correct practices?

It is important that Policies and Procedure are in place and hiring managers are trained in Equality and Diversity so they know which grey areas to avoid. You should ensure that all candidates go through the same process and are asked the same questions. You cannot ask if they have a disability but you can ask if they need you to make any adjustments for their interview such as assistance with reading or access to the building. You can enquire about someone’s availability to work overtime and weekends without directly saying, “Do you have or plan to have a family” by simply asking if they would be able to work overtime on occasion. You cannot ask when someone graduated, but you could ask what relevant qualifications he or she has for the role.

Finding the right person for the role is never easy and establishing all the facts that you need before entering into a contract with them is hard when you are basing it on an application and only one or two face-to-face meetings. Do your homework, be prepared, make a plan and document every stage of the recruitment process so that you have evidence should anyone challenge your decisions.

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