How can UK businesses avoid discriminatory practices during the recruitment process?

11 June 2024

The recruitment process is a critical component of any business operation. It is through this process that businesses identify, attract, and hire the most suitable candidates to fill vacant positions in the organisation. While it is vital to place the best people in the right roles, it is equally crucial to ensure that the recruitment process adheres to equality standards. This article provides a comprehensive guide on how businesses in the UK can avoid discriminatory practices during the recruitment process.

Understanding Discrimination in Recruitment

Discrimination during the recruitment process refers to treating an applicant or a group of applicants less favourably because of certain protected characteristics such as age, gender, race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. Discrimination can take many forms but is often subtle, indirect, and unintentional. It is important for businesses to understand the nature and forms of discrimination to prevent such practices.

Discrimination can occur at any stage of the process, from job adverts to interviews and even after a job offer has been made. It affects not only the candidates but also the reputation and legal standing of the company. Discrimination can lead to legal charges, damage the company's image, and discourage talented candidates from applying.

The Legal Framework Against Discrimination in the UK

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 is the principal legislation that protects applicants from discrimination during the recruitment process. The Act covers various forms of discrimination including direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. The law applies to all employers, regardless of their size or the sector they operate in.

The Act outlines nine protected characteristics which employers cannot discriminate against. These include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Any form of discrimination relating to these characteristics is considered unlawful.

Businesses must ensure that they are familiar with the provisions of this law and have policies in place that comply with the Act. The law also requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled applicants during the recruitment process.

Implementing Bias-Free Recruitment Practices

In order to avoid discriminatory practices, businesses should adopt bias-free recruitment practices. This starts by ensuring that job advertisements are free from any language that could discourage certain groups of people from applying. The job description and person specification should focus on the skills, qualifications, and experience required for the role.

During the interview stage, questions should be relevant to the job role and not touch on any protected characteristics. Interviewers should be trained to avoid unconscious bias and to judge candidates on their abilities and suitability for the role.

Use of structured interviews, where all candidates are asked the same questions in the same order, can also help to avoid bias. Also, having a diverse interview panel can reduce the chances of discrimination.

Inclusive Workplace Policies

Having inclusive workplace policies is a proactive measure to avoid discriminatory practices in the recruitment process. These policies should clearly state the business's commitment to equality and diversity, and provide guidance on how this is achieved.

The policies should detail the process for handling complaints of discrimination, with a clear guarantee that complainants will not be victimised. It is also essential to train all staff, particularly those involved in recruitment, on these policies and the importance of equality and diversity.

Regular Monitoring and Evaluation

To ensure that discrimination is not occurring, businesses should undertake regular monitoring and evaluation of their recruitment processes. This involves collecting and analysing data on applicants and successful candidates, looking for patterns that could suggest discrimination.

Anonymous application forms, where candidates' personal details are removed, can be a useful tool in preventing bias. Similarly, offering feedback to unsuccessful candidates can provide valuable insights into any potential issues.

Monitoring should not be a one-time exercise, but rather a continuous part of the recruitment process. By regularly reviewing and improving their practices, businesses can strive towards a truly inclusive and discrimination-free recruitment process.

Remember, avoiding discrimination in the recruitment process is not just a legal obligation, but it also makes good business sense. A diverse workforce brings a range of experiences and perspectives, leading to innovative ideas and better decision making. Furthermore, businesses that value equality and diversity are likely to attract and retain the best talent, enhancing productivity and business success.

Ultimately, the recruitment process should be about finding the right person for the job, based on their ability to perform the role, rather than any irrelevant personal characteristics. By understanding and addressing the potential for discrimination, businesses in the UK can ensure a fair, inclusive, and effective recruitment process.

Positive Action and Reasonable Adjustments in Recruitment

Taking active steps to promote equality can be an effective way to prevent discriminatory practices. This is often referred to as positive action. It is a legal measure that UK businesses can take to encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to apply for job roles.

Positive action can include outreach efforts, training schemes or initiatives specifically designed to attract candidates from groups that are underrepresented due to their protected characteristics. It should be noted that this does not mean giving preferential treatment to these individuals during recruitment. The selection process must still remain fair and based on merit.

Another critical aspect of the recruitment process is the provision of reasonable adjustments. These are changes or modifications made to ensure that disabled applicants or those with a health condition are not disadvantaged. The Equality Act 2010 requires UK employers to make reasonable adjustments during recruitment.

Reasonable adjustments may include providing application forms in different formats (like Braille or large print), offering extra time for tests, or adjusting the interview setting to make it more accessible. These adjustments can help ensure that the recruitment process is fair and inclusive.

Work Checks and Data Protection

UK businesses should also be aware of the necessary work checks and data protection rules during recruitment. In the UK, employers must make sure that the individuals they hire have the legal right to work in the country. These checks should be conducted for all applicants, regardless of their nationality or ethnic background, to avoid discrimination.

While conducting these checks, businesses must comply with data protection laws. The UK operates under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which protects the privacy of individuals’ personal information. This includes information collected during recruitment.

Employers should inform applicants about how their data will be used, stored, and protected. They should also only collect data relevant to the recruitment process and avoid asking for information related to protected characteristics unless it is necessary for the role.

Businesses must ensure they have adequate measures in place to protect this data and use it responsibly. Breaching data protection laws can lead to significant penalties, so businesses should seek advice if unsure.


Discrimination in the recruitment process can damage a company’s reputation, lead to legal consequences, and deprive the company of talented candidates. To avoid discriminatory practices, UK businesses must adhere to employment laws, particularly the Equality Act 2010, and implement fair and inclusive recruitment practices.

This can be achieved through understanding the nature of discrimination, implementing bias-free recruitment practices, developing inclusive workplace policies, and regularly monitoring and evaluating the recruitment process.

Taking positive action and providing reasonable adjustments can also help promote diversity and inclusion. Lastly, conducting lawful work checks and ensuring data protection can help businesses maintain a fair and compliant recruitment process.

Avoiding discrimination in recruitment benefits not only the candidates but also the business itself. Embracing diversity and inclusion can lead to a more innovative and dynamic team, boosting productivity and success. After all, the primary goal of the recruitment process should always be to hire the most capable and suitable candidate, regardless of their personal characteristics.

Copyright 2024. All Rights Reserved