Recruiting new staff can be an exciting process because it is evidence your business is growing and you need more help. But avoiding discrimination doesn’t just apply to existing employees and you have a duty to actively avoid discriminating against anyone as you run through the recruitment process.

The Equality Act 2010 made it unlawful to discriminate against people on grounds of certain characteristics or situations. These include: age, gender, sexual orientation, sex, race, religious beliefs, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy, maternity, marriage and civil partnership.

You can be guilty of discriminating against some during the recruitment process by either not offering them a job based on those protected characteristics or by offering the successful applicant the job based on certain characteristics.

What is discrimination in the recruitment process?

You have to be very careful during the recruitment process to ensure you’re not discriminating against any candidates. For example, by deliberately choosing not to employ someone because they are pregnant or because they are over 50, for example.

And discrimination can take place at any point, from the moment you draw up a job advert to the job interview and final job offer.

How to avoid discrimination

Unfortunately, the risk of discrimination in the workplace is all too real but there are plenty of things you can do as an employer to ensure you stay on the right side of the law.

Create a standard set of criteria

Before you place your job advert, write down the skills the candidates need and the criteria they have to fulfil to be eligible for the role. This policy should be applied to all who are applying for the job so they are judged and dealt with in the same way. If you are able to, create a written policy of job selection criteria so all your managers or interviewers have the same record. Once you have the job criteria ready you can start to develop the questions you will need to ask to get the right information – this will enable you to stay away from discriminatory questions that aren’t relevant to the role.

Use non-discriminatory language

When you draw up your job advert be careful not to use discriminatory words and phrases. For example, asking for a barmaid or kitchen boy could be discrimination because it suggests that only women or men should apply.

Advertise widely

Put your job advert into a number of different publications so you attract a wide cross section of applicants.

Don’t ask questions based on the protected criteria

As a business owner, particularly in a small business, it can be really tempting to ask questions such as whether a woman plans to have children or whether someone thinks their religious beliefs will impact the role but stop right there. If you do ask those kinds of questions you could be breaking the law.

Avoid unconscious bias

Like it or not we are all biased in different ways even if we don’t always realise it. You might find yourself showing far more empathy for a candidate who has the same racial and social background as you, for example. When recruiting you need to use the same standard set of questions which apply to every single candidate and focus on the skills the job requires than any protected characteristics. If you have an interview panel you should also try to ensure it is made up of people with different protected characteristics. You can find out more about what unconscious bias is here

The job offer

Make sure the process you follow in deciding who should get the job is without discrimination. You should consider the person’s skills and abilities compared to the job description rather than any kind of bias.

Keep a record

It’s a good idea to keep a record of the decisions you make and why. They can be useful for training but they can also provide a record if someone does make a complaint. Applicant tracking systems are a great tool for recording the recruitment process. Remember any notes you make in an interview could also be disclosed in the event of legal action so make sure you keep them objective.


Whenever possible it’s good to give unsuccessful candidates feedback about their interview. You should however, make sure it is constructive feedback and gives them points to work on.

Recruitment guide