‘Persons with young children need not apply’ appeared in an online Dublin job advert last year. It was promptly and widely condemned as blatant discrimination, and quickly removed.
Although discrimination is not widespread in Ireland, according to the National Recruitment Federation, employers can inadvertently find themselves in trouble if they are not up to speed with employee rights, especially when it comes to equality issues.
New Employment Act
The 2018 Employment Act came into effect in March 2019 to give employees greater clarity around working hours. Within five days of starting work, all new employees must now get a contract of employment or a statement containing (at least) five core terms of their employment, including the anticipated duration of their contract and the pay and hours expected.
Zero-hour contracts essentially must be discontinued, apart from some limited exceptions, and all employment contracts should be reviewed to ensure employees who regularly work over their contracted hours get a contract that accurately reflects their working arrangement.
Numerous employment laws, including The Equality Acts, seek to outlaw discrimination and unfairness in recruitment and in the workplace. These apply to all employees and agency workers, full-time, part-time or contracted, in both the public and private sectors.
Nine grounds of discrimination are covered: age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, family status, marital status, race, religion, and membership of the travelling community.
Mind your language
The online ad mentioned above seeking an office worker without children showed a pretty blatant disregard for equality law that most people would be conscious of. Marital and family circumstances have no place in the recruitment process, not even as an ‘ice breaker’ during an interview. Role titles in a job ad should not be gender specific, so employers must avoid terms like ‘waitress’, ‘barmaid’, ‘salesman’ or ‘manageress’. Other more subtle terms can be equally judged unacceptable. Looking for a ‘young and dynamic’ individual to join your team is out; both the age reference and dynamism can be a problem. Equally, ‘mature candidates’ should not be highlighted.
No experience needed
While you can advertise a role that demands a minimum level of skills or training for operational purposes, job adverts for candidates with ‘no more than 2-3 years’ experience’ can fall foul of the standards. Rather than asking for a certain amount of experience or years spent in a position, employers should focus on the required skills.
Aside from needing to be over 18 to sell certain products, an individual’s age shouldn’t affect their ability to do a job effectively. On race, it’s fine to look for a French-speaking account manager, for example, but restricting the position to ‘a native French speaker’ is not. A requirement to speak a language fluently is all that can be asked, not that English, or any other language, is your first language.
Publish and be damned
With discriminatory advertising, it’s not only the person who produced the offending copy who is in trouble. Those publishing it online, or in any media, can equally be held responsible. Have a failsafe in place, ideally a recruitment agency, to check your advertising and recruitment process to ensure regulations are adhered to.
The interview process demands experienced HR or recruitment personnel, conscious of questioning that may be termed discriminatory. An employee or manager that the prospective recruit will report to may sit in, but it isn’t wise for anyone untrained to conduct a job interview, and certainly not alone.
When it comes to potential pitfalls, any mention of a woman being capable or confident in a male-dominated role or business is ill-advised, and vice versa. How an individual would cope with having a younger boss or being the oldest person in the department is also off-limits. Questions about sickness, health, or disabilities, like how many sick-days you had last year, should be avoided.
Questions relating to marriage plans, family intentions, children, age, physical ability and even distance from work or access to transport should not be asked. Use a ‘statement‐question’ approach, such as ‘this role can require working into the evening; do you have a problem with that?’ but never ‘do you have kids to take care of?’
Notes and feedback
For transparency in the interview process, use the same pre-determined questions, making notes on why each candidate was successful or not. The grounds on which a decision was reached, and how different candidates rated under the same role-related criteria, must be outlined. And these should be kept for at least a year after the recruitment process.
It is also recommended to give clear well-explained reasons to unsuccessful candidates as to why they were not selected, as well as constructive feedback. A good selection procedure is driven by the demands and requirements of the role alone; judge candidates only on their skills and abilities relating to the job, and you won’t go wrong.