This guide takes you through the different stages of the recruitment process, from deciding what you need and how you are going to advertise, through to preparing for and carrying out the interview.
It includes information about:
A good job advertisement should:
Preparing a job description is not a legal requirement but it will help you to decide what type of person you are looking for and to write the job advert.
A job description should include:
If you are recruiting a manager, decide what their additional responsibilities will be and the specific skills they will need – eg line management or team leadership experience.
It is not a legal requirement to include a person specification in your job advert. If you do decide to have a person specification, include the essential and desirable knowledge, experience and skills you would like the successful applicant to have.
There are a range of options available to you when advertising a job. These include:
Think about who you want to read the advertisement, how long it should run for, how quickly you want a response and how much you can afford to pay.
Check the costs – internet sites can be cheaper than advertising in a newspaper – and time the advertisement carefully, eg avoid holiday periods.
Jobcentre Plus provides services similar to an employment agency but at no direct cost to employers. You can advertise either online, by telephone or by email. See our guide on how to advertise a job and Jobcentre Plus Services.
Graduate Talent Pool is a government service that you can use to advertise internship vacancies to graduates.
Employment agencies can find you either temporary or permanent staff, depending on your needs.
It is recommended that you agree fees – including advertising costs – and terms before you appoint an employment agency to find candidates on your behalf.
Employment agencies must comply with the Employment Agencies Act 1973 and the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003. If you are unhappy with your agency, you can make a complaint by calling the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on Tel 0800 917 2368.
There are two main options for inviting applications to your vacancy:
You must avoid asking discriminatory questions. See our guide on how to prevent discrimination and value diversity.
When you have the replies to your advertisement:
Invite the most suitable candidates to interview by letter, telephone or email. If you do it by telephone, you are advised to confirm arrangements in writing.
You should say:
You should also ask candidates to tell you if they have any special needs that you will need to cater for.
The more preparation you do for the interview, the easier it will be for both you and the candidate.
Prepare questions that need more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. For example:
Prepare your questions in advance of the interview. Your aim is to get as much quality information from the candidate as possible to assess if they are right for the job.
Only record or keep personal data after an interview if it is necessary and relevant to the recruitment process, or if there is a possibility of a discrimination challenge. Data that is kept should be securely stored.
As well as interviewing, there are other ways to select the best candidate. Options include:
Tests can be done before or at the time of the interview, but should not be used as the sole method of selection. Keep in mind that such tests could also be unlawful if they discriminate against candidates of a particular race, sex or age or those who have a disability.
Before using any kind of test, think about how relevant it is to the job and measure the benefits against the costs of organising them.
Practical tests are used to gauge ability and are most useful for:
Psychometric tests are more likely to be used when hiring managers and can be useful when choosing a candidate from a group of people who do not have easily comparable skills or experience. Psychometric tests can be used to measure intelligence, personality or aptitude for specific tasks, such as:
You should bear in mind that these tests:
These are generally used by larger organisations when hiring senior staff or graduates. Individual and group exercises take place, sometimes over a few days, often including an interview, psychometric test and group discussion. Tasks, written exercises and presentations are also commonly used.
The equality legislation sets out the grounds for unlawful discrimination, helps employers understand how to recruit and treat their staff fairly and promotes diversity in the workplace.
Unlawful discrimination discredits you as a business and can be very costly should an individual succeed in an unlawful discrimination claim against you at an employment tribunal.
This guide tells you what you must know about the equality legislation. It also outlines how you can monitor and promote diversity in the workplace.
It is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of:
The anti-discrimination legislation applies to:
There are generally four types of discrimination:
The types of disability discrimination are slightly different – see the page in this guide on discrimination against disabled people.
Note that direct discrimination and harassment can include:
It is not possible to justify direct discrimination (except for direct age discrimination – see the page in this guide onage discrimination), harassment and victimisation.
However, it may be possible to justify indirect discrimination in certain circumstances. For example, if an employer has a general rule that puts women or people with no religious belief at a disadvantage but the reason for applying that rule genuinely helps the employer to meet a legitimate aim, then indirect discrimination may be justified.
The equality legislation affects all areas of employment including:
Discrimination can also occur after employment, eg a former employee can bring a discrimination claim after they have left if they get an unfavourable reference because they threatened to bring a discrimination claim.
Any claim to an employment tribunal will generally have to be brought by the employee concerned within three months of the alleged discriminatory act occurring.
However, the tribunal would expect them to raise a formal grievance with you before bringing the claim, see our guide on managing conflict. If they failed to do so, it may reduce the amount of any compensation it may award to the employee by up to 25 per cent.
See our guides on handling grievances andemployment tribunal claims – the basics.
There are no length-of-service or age requirements in bringing a claim and claimants do not need to have left your employment.
For their claim to succeed, the claimant must prove the existence of facts from which the tribunal could conclude that you have committed an act of unlawful discrimination.
If the claimant is able to do this, you must prove to the tribunal that you did not commit the unlawful act.
If an employment tribunal does in fact find that unlawful discrimination has occurred, penalties can be high, since there is no cap on compensation.
It’s very important to remember that, as a business owner or manager, you may be held responsible for any discriminatory action by your employees if you cannot show that you took steps to try and prevent such action occurring – see the pages in this guide on monitoring equality and diversity and promoting equality and diversity.
It is important to avoid discrimination during the recruitment process. This not only is a legal requirement, but also gives you the best chance of getting the right person for the job.
Remember that job applicants – ie people you don’t actually employ – might be able to make an employment tribunal claim against you if they believe you didn’t select them for a job because you discriminated against them unlawfully.
Note that businesses in Northern Ireland with more than ten employees must conduct monitoring during recruitment.
When writing the job description and person specification, you should state clearly what tasks the person will have to do and what skills they will need.
The specification should not have any requirements that are not directly related to the job. For example, for a position as a fork-lift truck driver, the job specification should not state that the successful candidate needs good written English as this is probably not essential – or even desirable – for the job. However, in an editorial or administrative role this can be specified.
It is unlawful for a job advertisement to specify that the applicant must be of a particular gender, race, etc – unless being of that gender, race, etc is an occupational requirement.
It is unlawful to publish job advertisements that imply that any candidate’s success depends to any extent on them not having, or not having had, a disability, or indicate the employer’s reluctance to make reasonable adjustments. In addition, third-party publishers, eg newspapers, are liable if they publish discriminatory advertisements.
However, note that you can treat disabled people more favourably by advertising a job as being open only to disabled applicants.
To avoid age discrimination it is advisable not to use such phrases as “young and dynamic”, “would suit someone who has just qualified” or “minimum of ten years’ experience” as these may lead to age bias.
See the page in this guide on age discrimination.
In some circumstances, you can state that being of a particular sex, race, religion/belief, age or sexual orientation is an occupational requirement for the job.
For example, it may be possible to state that being:
The Equality Act 2010 limits when you can make enquiries about health or disability when recruiting. These restrictions apply prior to the point where you:
Before that point you should only ask about a candidate’s disability or health if you need to find out whether:
You can also ask about health or disability if:
Asking a question about health or disability which is not permitted is not in itself discriminatory. However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission can take action against you if you make enquiries that are not permitted.
Also, if a candidate later makes a claim of direct discrimination because they believe that you used their reply to discriminate against them it will be for you to show the Employment Tribunal that this is not the case.
If you use application forms, you should only ask for the minimum of personal details.
However, there may be certain information you need to ask for in order to avoid discrimination during the selection process. For example, you should ask applicants to indicate if they have any special requirements should they be required to attend an interview or other selection process.
If the applicant’s response reveals or suggests that they are disabled, you should take reasonable steps to confirm whether or not they are disabled under the Equality Act 2010. If so, you would have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, eg by holding the interview in an easily accessible room or allowing extra time for selection tests.
If a disabled applicant asks for an application form in an accessible format you should comply with the request if it is reasonable to do so.
It is not unlawful to ask candidates for their ages, ethnicities, etc on application forms. However, in relation to disability and health, you need to avoid asking questions that are not permitted.
It is good practice to save questions about personal characteristics for a diversity monitoring form that you can separate from the main application.
When interviewing people for a job there are certain questions you should not ask, such as whether a candidate is married, is a partner in a same-sex civil partnership or plans to have children. Also, there are restrictions on questions that may be asked about disability or health.
If a candidate has informed you in advance that they are disabled you should ask them if there are any reasonable adjustments you might need to make to enable them to attend and participate in the interview.
You must only ask health- or disability-related questions that are relevant to establishing:
You must make sure that tests for job applicants are not unlawfully discriminatory. For example, a written English test would discriminate against those whose first language is not English – although you could justify this if having good written English was necessary for the job.
You may have to make reasonable adjustments to adjust a test for a disabled applicant if they would otherwise be substantially disadvantaged compared to a non-disabled person, eg by giving them more time to complete it.
You must always be able to justify your decision to recruit a particular person. Therefore, you should document the recruitment process as much as possible.
This will help you provide evidence to an employment tribunal if you are faced with a claim of unlawful discrimination.
As well as gender itself, the equality legislation covers discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity.
Direct sex discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer dismissed a woman because she was pregnant or asked to take maternity leave.
Indirect discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer stated that a job could only be done by someone willing to spend long periods of time away from home. This discriminates against women who generally have greater childcare responsibilities than men. However, this discrimination could be justified if, for example, the job was for a salesperson who had to go abroad to meet customers face to face.
Note that it may be possible to state that a job holder must be male or female where being of that sex is an occupational requirement – see the page in this guide on discrimination during the recruitment process.
The law makes sexual harassment – and harassment related to sex – explicitly unlawful in employment or vocational training. Sexual harassment can include insensitive jokes, displays of sexually explicit material, sexual innuendos or lewd comments or gestures. It also includes the circulation of lewd emails, even if this is not actually sent to the person being harassed.
For more information, see our guide on bullying and harassment.
For more on these types of discrimination and discrimination law in general, see the page in this guide on the common areas of discrimination law.
Women and men are entitled to equal pay for work of equal value.
‘Pay’ includes not only wages/salary but also contractual terms and conditions.
Therefore, even if you pay men and women the same basic pay for the same job, their pay may still be unequal if other benefits, eg a company car and private healthcare, are different for men and women.
Work may be different from that of a colleague of the opposite sex but it can be considered of equal value if it is similar or the same in terms of the demands of the job.
Employees are entitled to request key information from you by asking directly or they can fill in a special questions form. You are not obliged to respond but, if you wish to, you can use the special answers form.
Find the Equality Act questions and answers forms on the Government Equalities Office website- Opens in a new window.
If you choose not to respond, it can count against you should the matter reach an employment tribunal, as can giving an evasive reply.
You may be able justify differences in pay as long as you can show that gender was not a factor, eg you could pay more to employees who:
It’s unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds that they have undergone, are undergoing or intend to undergo gender reassignment, with limited exceptions in recruitment.
It’s also unlawful to treat such a person less favourably than a person who is off sick for another reason and similar period.
A person is protected from gender reassignment discrimination from the date they tell a medical practitioner that they want to undergo gender reassignment.
Before any surgery, someone undergoing gender reassignment (a ‘trans person’) needs to live as a member of the opposite sex. Inevitably this will include using gender-appropriate single-sex toilets.
You will therefore need to discuss with the individual when they wish to change from using one set of facilities to the other. This will probably be during the ‘social gender’ transition, when they present as members of the adopted sex even though they don’t have any of the physical characteristics of that sex.
Other employees may object to sharing facilities in these circumstances. While the trans person must also take account of colleagues’ and clients’ sensibilities, you should remind objectors that a failure to treat others with dignity and respect could be seen as a breach of your equality policy and could amount to a disciplinary issue.
Once a trans person’s gender reassignment is complete, they can register their change of gender via a gender recognition certificate (GRC). Once they have a GRC, they will be issued with a new birth certificate in the acquired gender. This would mean that you would have to treat a male-to-female trans person with a GRC as a woman and, for example, change your personnel records to reflect this.
A person who has undergone gender reassignment while already married must divorce to gain a GRC. They and their partner will then be able to register a civil partnership to regain the legal status of their relationship.
It is generally unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the grounds of age – ie to treat individuals of any age less favourably than others.
There are limited circumstances when it can be lawful – for example:
Exceptions are rare and any should be considered carefully. Unjustified discrimination can be challenged and there is no limit on how much an employment tribunal can award.
Direct discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer refused to employ people under the age of 30, believing them to be unreliable; or advertised for a ‘young, dynamic person’ as this would potentially exclude older people from applying.
Indirect discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer only advertised jobs in magazines aimed at young people – this may discriminate against older people as they are less likely to subscribe to the magazine; or introduced a benefit only for employees with more than ten years’ service – fewer younger employees are likely to have enough service to qualify. However, it might be possible to justify this type of discrimination if evidence showed it encouraged staff retention.
The government is phasing out the DRA of 65. From October 1st 2011, employers will no longer be able to force employees to retire just because they reach the arbitrary age of 65. This means that most people will be able to retire at a time which is right for them. As above, without the DRA employers can only set retirement ages where it can be objectively justified in their particular circumstances – but this is open to challenge at tribunal.
For more information, see our guide on when an employee retires.
Note that it may be possible to state that a job holder must be of a certain age where being of that age is an occupational requirement – see the page in this guide ondiscrimination during the recruitment process.
For more information on these and other forms of discrimination, see the page in this guide on the common areas of discrimination law.
You should check that your recruitment process is non-discriminatory, eg aim to place advertisements in publications read by a range of age groups, and avoid using terms which imply a particular age group, such as ‘mature’, ‘enthusiastic’, ‘highly experienced’ or ‘recent graduate’. See our guide on employing older workers.
You must also make sure that your redundancy procedures are based on business needs rather than age, eg it could be discriminatory to select employees for redundancy solely on the basis of ‘last in, first out’.
Under the Equality Act 2010, it amounts to unlawful disability discrimination if an employer:
Victimisation is also unlawful discrimination under the Act, ie it is unlawful for an employer to treat an employee (the victim – whether a disabled or non-disabled person) unfairly because they have, or the employer believes they have:
For example, a disabled employee alleges discrimination because his employer refuses to promote him. A colleague gives evidence at the tribunal on the disabled employee’s behalf and, as a result, the employer makes the colleague redundant. This amounts to unlawful victimisation (as well as unfair dismissal).
The law also makes it unlawful to:
See the page in this guide on common areas of discrimination law.
In general, the Equality Act 2010 considers someone to be disabled for the purposes of the Act if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
However there are special rules that apply to people with certain impairments like progressive conditions. Also, some people are deemed to be disabled people, for example those with HIV, cancer and some visual impairments.
In addition, a mental illness does not have to be ‘clinically well recognised’ before it is judged to be a mental impairment for the purposes of the Act.
Certain conditions are not regarded as impairments for the purposes of the Act, eg drug or alcohol addiction or a tendency to start fires, steal or physically abuse others.
For more on discrimination law in general, see the page in this guide on the common areas of discrimination law.
Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to any provision, criterion or practice, or to physical features of their premises, to enable a disabled person to work or continue working if they would otherwise be at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled workers. Reasonable adjustments often involve little or no cost to your business. See our guide on how to provide access and facilities for disabled people.
It’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against someone on the grounds of:
Segregation of employees on the grounds of race is also unlawful.
Direct discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer refused to employ someone because they were not white and English.
Indirect discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer refused to employ people who could not write in English. This could only be justified if written English was necessary for the job.
Note that you may be able to state in a person specification that the job holder must be of a particular race, national origin, etc where being of that race, national origin etc is an occupational requirement – see the page in this guide ondiscrimination during the recruitment process.
For more on these types of discrimination and discrimination law in general, see the page in this guide on the common areas of discrimination law.
It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against someone on the grounds of:
Neither religion nor belief is defined by law. However, belief could cover things like atheism and humanism.
Direct discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer paid Christians more than non-Christians.
Indirect discrimination would occur if a butcher stated that job applicants must be willing to handle pork and pork products. This would indirectly discriminate against Muslims and Jews, who regard pork meat as unclean. However, this could be justified if the butcher could show that:
Note that you may be able to state that a job holder must be of a particular religion/belief where being of that religion/belief is an occupational requirement – see the page in this guide on discrimination during the recruitment process.
It is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of sexual orientation towards:
Direct discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer refused to employ a heterosexual woman whom the employer believed was bisexual.
Indirect discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer only placed a job advertisement in newspapers and magazines aimed at gays and/or lesbians as heterosexuals tend not to read such publications.
Note that you may be able to state that a job holder must be of a particular sexual orientation where being of that sexual orientation is an occupational requirement – see the page in this guide on discrimination during the recruitment process.
For more on these types of discrimination and discrimination law in general, see the page in this guide on the common areas of discrimination law.
You should monitor equality and diversity to examine if your equality policy is working effectively.
If you find that it isn’t working, ie you find that your workforce is not as diverse as it should be, you will need to find out why and take action to improve the effectiveness of the policy.
For example, if you find that non-white people are underrepresented in your workforce, you could take positive action, eg include text in job advertisements encouraging members of minority ethnic groups to apply – see the page in this guide on promoting equality and diversity.
Monitoring involves gathering information on the diversity of your potential recruits or existing employees. This data can be compared and analysed against data about other groups of employees in your company, jobseekers in your local community and the national labour market.
It is unlikely that you will find exactly the same proportion of men and women or other groups. Monitoring is about looking for significant differences between groups or identifying trends over periods of time and then finding out why.
To get the best out of the process, you may need to explain to some staff the benefits of monitoring.
For example, some employees may feel uncomfortable about filling in monitoring forms. If so:
It may help if you involve workplace representatives in explaining what monitoring is for.
If you do not have any representatives in your organisation, consider setting up a working group. This can act as a point of contact for employees if they want to raise any concerns.
You will also need to:
Make sure that each question has an option of ‘prefer not to say’. However, do not make completion of a monitoring form compulsory or in any way ‘punish’ those who refuse to cooperate.
You should – at the very least – collect information based around the six main strands of equality legislation:
See our table on the legal position regarding monitoring and good-practice pointers- Opens in a new window.
It is good practice to monitor your employees at every stage of their employment – from recruitment right through to when they leave.
This means finding out:
Ask job applicants for monitoring data on a sheet that can be detached from the application form. That way the information can be kept separate from the selection process.
Make it clear that the information will only be used for equality monitoring and not for short-listing.
All applicants must be treated fairly at the point of selection. Choosing someone because they are – or are not – of a particular sex, age, ethnicity, etc is unlawful discrimination.
However, you can treat disabled people more favourably by actively choosing to select a disabled candidate for a job even though they may not be the best qualified.
See the page in this guide on discrimination during the recruitment process.
As for your existing workforce, you could also ask them to fill out a monitoring form.
However, smaller businesses may find it difficult to ensure confidentiality or an issue may be too sensitive. In these circumstances, you could use a staff-attitude or customer-satisfaction survey.
Monitoring is about making comparisons between groups of employees or job applicants and, if there is a real difference, finding out why.
Bear in mind that any difference in itself is not necessarily bad – indeed it would be very surprising if the number of job applicants was split 50-50 – for example, between men and women.
A widely used rule of thumb to assess the difference in recruitment rates between groups, eg between men and women or white British and non-white British people, is known as the ‘four-fifths rule’.
The four-fifths rule suggests that if any group is less than four-fifths of the rate of the group with the higher or highest success rate, it may indicate bias.
The four-fifths rule can be used at each stage of a selection process to identify any particular difference.
It is not intended to be an absolute measure, but is a simple and easy way to measure whether the differences in rates are worth investigating further.
Owing to generally smaller sample sizes, ie fewer job applicants and fewer employees, smaller businesses may find it more practical to use their judgement rather than relying on this calculation.
In order to promote equality and diversity in the workplace, you should have a written equality and diversity policy.
You may wish to consider carrying out a pay review to see if there are any imbalances to assure yourself that your organisation is not discriminating.
It’s very important to remember that, as a business owner or manager, you may be held responsible for any discriminatory action by your employees if you cannot show that you took steps to try and prevent such action occurring.
One of the main ways of doing this is to have an equality and diversity policy, backed up by action plan to promote the policy and ensure that it is understood and followed across the business.
The policy should set out your commitment to promote equality and diversity in areas such as recruitment, training and pay to tackle discrimination.
It should also:
For more information, see our guide on how to set up employment policies for your business.
The Acas Model Workplace tool can help you assess the effectiveness of your equality and diversity practices and give you guidance on setting up and maintaining good employment relations. You can find out about the Acas Model Workplace on the Acas website- Opens in a new window.
Many companies have instituted equal pay reviews which aim to ensure that all staff enjoy the same pay and conditions while doing similar types of work.
The reviews can help avoid ‘glass ceiling’ working cultures, where certain types of people don’t get promoted above specific levels. These reviews can also help make sure that an equal pay policy is working.
Equal pay reviews may be carried out by someone within the company trained to deal with equality issues or they may be conducted by an outside team of specialists.
Find guidance on how to check equal pay on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website- Opens in a new window.
You can also see our guide on how to set the right pay rates.
If your monitoring reveals imbalances in staff numbers in terms of race, sex, etc you can use positive action to encourage members of the under-represented group to take up opportunities for work, eg by having job advertisements stating that applications from, for example, women, or minority ethnic groups will be particularly welcome. However, the advertisement must still state that the final recruitment decision will be based solely on merit.
When faced with two equally qualified job candidates, you can – in certain circumstances – use positive action when choosing which one to actually recruit. See the page in this guide on discrimination when deciding who to employ.
You can promote an employee who has a protected characteristic if they are of equal merit to another employee under consideration and you reasonably think that people with that characteristic are underrepresented in the workforce, or suffer a disadvantage connected to that characteristic.
However, you will:
The relevant protected characteristics are:
You can give members of, for example, the minority sex or non-white people access to training for particular work.
The provision of training for specific groups can help them to:
You could also provide:
However, positive discrimination – eg deliberately recruiting only non-white people to reach a quota – is unlawful.
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