1. The watch word in thinking about job advertisements is diversity, which in employment law terms is a euphemism for avoiding discrimination risk. Unlike other employment rights, anti-discrimination laws apply to applicants for jobs not just workers in post. Adverts which could be taken to indicate an intention to discriminate may prompt stand-alone action by the Equal Opportunities Commission, Disability Rights Commission or Commission for Racial Equality. They also will be persuasive evidence to support an unsuccessful (or, for that matter, successful) applicant’s claim for discrimination in recruitment.
2. The best advice on advertising jobs is to make sure you do it – ideally, every time there’s a vacancy. Informal methods of recruitment such as word of mouth are widely warned against by the various equality agencies, as they tend to result replication of the current workplace demographic and “cloning” whereby people recruit people like themselves. Cloning is the antithesis of diversity. Targeted search and selection may also only access a narrow pool of applicants. Using a range of recruitment methods is more likely to attract a diverse pool of applicants.
3. The content of an advert is obviously critical. It specifically is prohibited to use gender specific job titles such as “salesman”, “chairman”, “waitress” so use a gender-neutral alternative (or, if that’s just too painful, use both the male and female titles). Care over the specified job criteria is crucial: some of the most common job requirements have a disparate impact on a particular gender, race or other group (for example, fewer women than men hold driving licences or can work full-time) and so it’s critical to ensure that you can objectively justify each one. Don’t allow very minor aspects of the role to drive the role requirements as it may not be justifiable to exclude applicants on the basis of trivial parts of a job.
4. Be very sensitive to your choice of language: carelessly chosen adjectives can suggest discrimination where none is intended. Over-zealous use of the thesaurus can lead you astray in this regard! Don’t seek an “energetic” candidate if what you want is enthusiasm or a “dynamic” one if you are looking for a pro-active approach: both terms could unjustifiably deter disabled candidates. Liberal scatterings of superlatives can also be risky: those adverts seeking “spectacular” “dazzling” and “stunning” candidate skills are setting themselves a very high hurdle to clear on justification.
5. In limited circumstances, it may be permissible to include in adverts encouragement for applicants from under-represented groups. Care should be taken to ensure that the eligibility criteria for positive action are met or the advert will be unlawful. In no circumstances should any form of discrimination (however well-intentioned) occur at the point of selection between candidates. If you don’t meet the criteria for positive action in the advert wording itself, you could still target a particular publication to reach the under-represented group provided this it is only one of a number of sources.
6. Be careful about where adverts are placed. Again, the objective is to ensure that your advert reaches a diverse readership. Ask publications about their readership profile and circulation. Equal opportunities guidance encourages employers to advertise widely including in local and national papers, job centres, trade magazines and company websites. Not all of these will be suitable in each case, but due thought should be given before disregarding a particular method. Be careful of publications read mainly by one gender or other group as a sole advert site. Advertising for a secretary or receptionist in magazines read mainly by women is not just stereotyping but is likely to discriminate against men.
7. Don’t assume that if a recruitment consultant or agency places the advert that you’re not responsible. The buck stops with the employer and this includes for information disseminated through job centres, career offices, schools, colleges, polytechnics etc. While in some cases the agent placing the advert will also, separately, be liable this will not get you off the hook. Given written instructions to the agent in case there is later a dispute.
8. In some specific cases, a advert discriminating on grounds of race will be unlawful even if it would not be unlawful to discriminate in selecting for the job. In particular, while recruitment to private households and for jobs based wholly outside the UK may not be caught by the Race Relations Act, it nevertheless is prohibited to place a discriminatory advert for the positions. This is because the public display of racial prejudices (quite rightly) is considered inherently offensive.