Acas has published its latest guidance on how discrimination on the grounds of a person’s religion or belief can be prevented. The guidance is of particular significance to recruiters, as it covers the prevention of discrimination in respect of job advertisements, job specifications and interviewing amongst other areas.
Recruiters need to ensure that all job advertisements (and person specifications) only contain the relevant information required for the role and nothing further which could be taken to refer to religion or belief. If someone’s religion is not relevant to the role then there should not be any mention of religion in the advert. Anything which could be seen to discourage anyone with a particular religion or belief from applying could be challenged under the Equality Act 2010. The guidance also emphasises that it is not just the content of an advert which is important, but also where it is placed; recruiters should advertise in a way that reaches a wide pool of candidates in order that a diverse range of candidates will see it. The guidance recommends using two separate forms of media; otherwise, the advert will only be seen by a narrow group of people.
The only exception to these requirements will be if there is an ‘occupational requirement’ for the applicant to possess a certain religion or belief, but there will be limited circumstances where this will apply, and there are further considerations in the guidance which must be noted, such as providing the reasoning for the occupational requirement in the advert, and giving this information to candidates. Adverts could also permissibly be placed in one specific medium to target people who have the religion or belief as per the occupational requirement. Recruiters should still take care that the advert can be accessed by a suitably diverse range of applicants, so as not to be discriminating as to other factors such as age.
The guidance discourages recruiters from using social media to check an applicant’s background, as using any information about their religion obtained in this way could be seen as discriminatory. Further, recruitment agencies must be careful if an employer requests candidates who have or do not have a certain religion or belief, and it is advised that the agency should ignore the request (unless there is an occupational requirement).
Discrimination can also occur in interviews if those carrying out the process are not careful - an accompanying Acas guide on ‘discrimination myths’ states that even a question asking about the school a candidate attended can be discriminatory if the interviewer is surreptitiously trying to ascertain their religion. As above, of course, certain questions in an interview may be permitted if the religion or belief is an occupational requirement of the role as it is imperative to find out about the applicant’s religion or belief in that scenario, but for the avoidance of doubt, any such questions should not be raised at the interview stage if religion is irrelevant to the role applied for.
“Anyone falling foul of this guidance could be vulnerable to discrimination claims and employment tribunal proceedings. Compensation in discrimination claims are uncapped and can lead to large awards including compensation for injury to feelings. Training of staff is also important in helping reduce the risk of discrimination claims. If you would be interested in training in this area, please contact a member of the team".