Job Ads – What Not to Say

The biggest danger employers face when drafting job adverts is falling foul of discrimination law. What can you say and what can’t you say?

The language and the criteria that you use when writing your adverts must be carefully considered.

Just look at the hot water a recruitment agency found itself in for posting a job advert that stated they were looking for a Personal Assistant with “a classic look, brown long hair with b-c cup”.

The Law

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits you from saying, or even implying, that you will discriminate against anyone on the basis of any “protected characteristic”. This includes age, race, sex, disability, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief.

The general principle is that work opportunities should be available to everyone. Employers can, however, require an applicant to possess a particular “protected characteristic” if it is really necessary for the particular job. However, it is essential that the employer can justify the reason for the requirement – they must be able to argue that there is a genuine need for this criteria and that it is proportionate.

Protected Characteristics

For example, a Catholic charity may be entitled to advertise for its directors to be Catholic. They may be able to justify this requirement on the basis of the religious values held by the organisation and the type of work the applicants would be carrying out.

Likewise, it may be permissible for employers to advertise for applicants of a certain gender if they can show a real occupational need. For instance, in a women’s refuge, female workers may be required to allow victims to feel safe.

A bar owner may advertise that all bar staff must be over the age of 18. They are lawfully excluding people under this age because it is against the law for them to sell alcohol.

Banned Words and Phrasing

Unfortunately, there is no single, exhaustive list of prohibited words and phrases, but there are some basic principles you should be aware of:

  • You may only write phrases such as “recent graduate”, “young and fresh” or “mature” in the advert if they are actual requirements for the job role. These types of phrases may violate discrimination law because they exclude some people based on their age.
  • Be careful with any gender-specific terms. If you say “waitress”, it suggests you are only looking to hire a woman. If you say “handy man”, it seems that you only wish to recruit a male worker.
  • You must not say or imply that the role is not available for disabled people or that reasonable adjustments will not be made unless there is a very clear and proportionate job-related reason.
  • If the role requires the person to speak another language, this should be clearly set out as an essential skill. Rather than saying a “Portuguese customer service representative”, you should write a “Portuguese-speaking customer service representative” otherwise it could give rise to claims of race discrimination.

Positive Action

In certain cases, the organisation may take positive action to encourage applications from people with certain characteristics because they are under-represented or at a disadvantage in the workplace or at certain job levels. For instance, an employer may offer a guaranteed interview scheme to disabled applicants who meet the job role’s requirements.

Other Tips

  • Do not limit where you place the advert – simply putting your job advert in men’s magazines may be discriminatory.
  • You must advertise according to statutory obligations. You cannot say, for instance, that you will pay someone below the national minimum wage.
  • It may be worth including a statement that shows you are an employer who is committed to equal opportunities.
  • It is recommended to keep a record of what skills you require from candidates to fulfil the job role and the reasons for these requirements. This will help if legal action is taken against you.

If you have any concerns about whether your job adverts violates discrimination law, seek legal advice from your Employment Law Adviser.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

Whether you’re facing an immediate challenge or just want the reassurance of an expert second opinion, we’re here to offer clear, commercial advice so that you can focus on what you do best.

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