Running recruitment processes

Before you launch into placing an advert or calling a recruitment consultant, pause to think about exactly what it is your organisation actually needs. For instance:

  • Is a permanent or a fixed-term employee required or is engaging an agency worker more appropriate? The latter generally gives you more flexibility and less exposure to liability
  • Do you need a full-timer or would part-time working be acceptable? Consider this at the outset in case a candidate makes an enquiry about flexible working.

Plan ahead

1. Job description

Draw up a job description and a person specification to focus your mind on the key requirements of the role and the essential skills, knowledge and experience of the individual.

2. Selection process

Think about how to select and assess applicants. What type of selection process is suitable? This could be anything from a practical test to a traditional interview.

3. Question carefully

Finally, remind yourself of the areas where you should not probe. For example, it is generally not permissible to ask health-related questions before an employment offer is made to the individual – unless you are seeking such information with the purpose of making reasonable adjustments to your recruitment process to accommodate a disabled applicant).

Advertising

Care needs to be taken to avoid discriminatory adverts and so you should not, for example, state that the role is open to “men only” (except in very rare circumstances). However, be careful not to inadvertently discriminate against potential applicants either. Using terminology like “mature” and “excellent knowledge of English” can exclude younger and non-UK nationals, which can lead to age and race discrimination challenges.

Consider also where you will advertise the vacancy. This could be internally (e.g. on a staff noticeboard or intranet) or externally (such as via trade publications or your websites). Reach out to as wide a pool of candidates as possible. This not only helps you source the best applicants but avoids you perpetuating the make-up of your current workforce, which may not be balanced.

Do keep in mind when advertising internally that any employees who are off work (for instance on maternity leave or long-term sick) should be made aware of the opportunity too to avoid suggestions of sex or disability discrimination or similar. Additionally, don’t forget that any agency workers you engage have a legal right to be notified of relevant vacancies as well.

Applications

A standardised process should be used so an application form is a good idea. CVs and covering letters are likely to vary greatly in their content, making it difficult to compare the applicants fairly. Also, such documentation is more likely to contain irrelevant information, such as the candidate’s date of birth, their marital status or their religion. These details, among others, will be ‘protected characteristics’ for discrimination law purposes, so should not be used as a basis for deciding whether to shortlist an individual. While you could (and should) totally ignore such information, there is only your word that you did not base your decision on these superfluous factors meaning that disputes can still arise.

If you want to collect information about the applicant’s characteristics, the best way to do this lawfully is to have a separate equal opportunities monitoring form that is detached from their application form and kept away from the assessors.

Remember your data protection obligations. Ideally, you should have a policy outlining how applicants’ personal data will be used, how long it will be kept etc. Bear in mind that if you collect sensitive personal data (such as information about disability), then higher standards apply.

Selection

It is very important to get the selection procedure right – not just because you want to recruit the top candidate, but because this is probably the area where there is most potential for allegations of discrimination. Given this, it is crucial to provide equal opportunities training for all personnel involved. Further, you should:

  • Standardise your selection process to ensure that all hopefuls are treated equally
  • Ideally have more than one person carrying out the shortlisting and selection process. This reduces the possibility of bias and unbalanced decisions
  • Ensure that each assessor carries out their assessment separately against a pre-agreed scoring system which is both fair and non-discriminatory. Watch for discrimination by the back-door, such as only interviewing those who have, say, five GCSEs as this would potentially exclude older people and non-UK nationals. Avoid this by accepting equivalent qualifications
  • Check that any interview questions are appropriate and not discriminatory. Asking a woman whether she intends to have a baby soon is an obvious no-no! But even asking about someone’s hobbies can lead to problems; they might mention that they belong to a LGBT group, the disclosure of which could then lead to sexual orientation discrimination complaints if they later do not get the job
  • Base decisions on objective evidence of the applicant’s ability to do the job satisfactorily. Do not make assumptions or focus on irrelevant factors
  • Keep a record of all decisions and the reasoning behind them as this will be critical evidence in the event that an unsuccessful candidate contests a decision.

Offers

When you have chosen the successful candidate, you will need to send them an offer letter. It is important to set out any conditions that need to be satisfied before their employment can be confirmed. This could be anything from receiving satisfactory employment references to criminal record and professional qualification checks. Also, prior to their employment starting, you will need to check their eligibility to work in the UK. This check should be made of all new employees, not just for those who you think might not have this right because of their accent or appearance.

All that then remains is to (i) check that all pre-employment conditions are satisfied and (ii) get a signed contract of employment in place with the individual. While you legally have up to two months from their start date to issue written employment particulars, it is sensible to do this prior to their employment commencing so that everyone is clear about the terms and conditions governing the relationship.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice.  If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.