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Although it is common knowledge that employers must avoid discriminating against candidates during the selection process, many fall prey to their own inherent prejudices. This can result in a bit of a headache for recruitment consultants who then have to play middle man between candidate and client.

We catch up with Peter Barry, Internal Recruitment Manager at Search, to find out what recruitment consultants can do to navigate through this tricky scenario and discuss the different types of discrimination which could crop up through the recruitment process. 

What constitutes a Prejudiced Client

In the world of recruitment, encountering a client who is prone to discriminate is inevitable. “I have often encountered prejudiced clients throughout my career,” says Peter.

He notes that while certain clients may have a tendency to discriminate based on their own personal bias that may not have been illegal under employment law, recruitment consultants need to be aware of discriminatory practices that could hold them liable as representatives.

“The Equality Act 2010 prohibits employer discrimination - on the basis of a candidate’s age, gender, race, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, religion and belief, sexual orientation - at any point in the recruitment process. As such, recruitment consultants have to be extra mindful of how they facilitate the screening and selection process, right down to the very words they use in a job ad,” Peter advises.

Protected characteristics and Recruitment Discrimination

  1. Race

If an employer refuses to hire an individual due to their race and ethnic background, then they are demonstrating racial bias in recruitment. This practice is certainly grounds for a racial discrimination claim, as shown in the example of a recent case where a high profile restaurant chain refused to hire a black African woman.

After proving herself to be a qualified and a good employee at one branch of the business, she applied for a position at a different location due to study commitments. After speaking to the branch manager, who assured her that she would be employed depending on how well she performed during her trial shift, she was not offered the position. This drove her to take the case to tribunal. After reviewing the evidence, which showed that the branch had hired 17 non-black employees within the six-month period since declining her application, the courts unsurprisingly ruled in favour of the plaintiff.

  1. Age

When a recruiter is advertising a position for a client, they should not suggest that they are looking for a candidate within a certain age bracket. The following phrases could be perceived as ‘ageism’ because they articulate eligibility based on age:

  • ‘Looking for recent graduates’
  • ‘Must have 10 years experience’
  • ‘The candidate must be young and enthusiastic’

However, consultants are legally permitted to request date of birth if they are recruiting for a role that requires candidates to be over the age of 18.

  1. Sex and Maternity

Despite steps being made towards equal treatment of candidates, gender disparity in recruitment and employment is still a widespread problem throughout the world. However, it is illegal in the UK to discriminate against candidates based on them having to take a career break to focus on family commitments.

An example of this is the case of Ms Crilly who was not shortlisted after applying for the post of Neighbourhood Regeneration Officer with the Ballymagroarty Hazelbank Community Partnership. The essential criterion for the position was a ‘third level qualification in a relevant discipline with two years' relevant experience in a community development capacity (paid) gained within the last five years’.

Although Ms Crilly had not earned a salary for six years due to child care responsibilities, she had extensive high-level voluntary involvement in community development and neighbourhood regeneration. When she was not shortlisted for the post, she claimed that the paid work experience requirement constituted indirect sex discrimination.

The tribunal found a huge disparity between the sexes, from which the panel inferred that a vastly larger percentage of women than men are away from work to look after family and home. They also found that there was particular disadvantage suffered by women and that Ms Crilly herself had suffered personal disadvantage. They ruled in her favour, and awarded her £5,000 for injury to feelings and, when her actual and future loss was taken into account, she received a sum of £11,677.

A candidate can also lay a discrimination claim if they feel that they have been treated unfairly based on any one of the following protected characteristics:

  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion or belief

How to handle Discrimination from a Prejudiced Client

One could argue that the world of business presents a paradox whereby we are expected to focus on the significance of first impressions, yet somehow refrain from manifesting prejudice. While we’re all human beings who may occasionally pre-judge individuals to some degree, a line must be drawn in order to avoid job-seekers being discriminated against; resulting in the clients, and the recruitment consultants who represent them, being held liable for their actions. 

“Prejudice can lead to serious legal consequences,” Peter cautions. “It’s important to apply measures to safeguard against this as far as is feasible and maximise our results in ensuring good people are not missed based on subjective, pre-conceived misconceptions.”

Below are two of Peter’s top tips on how to handle a prejudiced client:

  1. Educate clients on the legal implications of discrimination: While some clients may be unreasonable, recruiters can assess – based on the nature of their relationships – which clients will be receptive to the voice of reason. “If you are dealing with a long-standing client, it’s worthwhile to challenge their views and highlight the potential implications of their reluctance to hire certain candidates. These would include financial costs of time lost training unsuitable hires, risks of legal consequences and the risk of missing the opportunity to hire a candidate who could potentially be the perfect fit for their business. If a client is too stubborn to see reason, it might also be worthwhile pointing their attention to the recruitment policies of other companies that are renowned for their business success simply because they implement a more progressive recruitment strategy."  
  2. Know when to cut and run: While every recruiter would like to seal every deal in a perfect world, the reality is that sometimes the potential financial gains are simply not worth the legal risk of a client stubbornly clinging to discriminatory mind sets, tendencies and practices pertaining to the screening and selection process. “Recruitment consultants should never operate with complicity in the event of a client’s prejudice being illegal on discriminatory grounds. If the client ventures into such territory, it is crucial that recruitment consultants stand their ground and advise them about their obligations under the Equality Act,” says Peter.

While cutting ties with a client who fancies themselves above the law may not seem beneficial on an immediate financial level, it will ultimately show potential stakeholders that your recruitment agency operates with integrity and progressiveness. This could land you more positive business relationships in the future. “If the client persists in their demands, politely explain the reasons we would not be prepared to supply them with a candidate and walk away. Showing conviction in your integrity will always prove beneficial when establishing relationships with future clients,” Peter advises.

We want you on our Team!

Are you an experienced recruiter looking for your next role within the industry? Search Consultancy is a nationwide recruitment agency that offers a wide range of jobs from a variety of specialist industry sectors. If you feel you would be an ideal addition to our team, please do not hesitate to contact our internal recruitment manager, Sarah Hall by email. Take a look at our recruitment consultant jobs that we have on offer here.