You have a duty at all times to ensure that your recruitment procedures are fair, legal and anti-discriminatory.

There are four main areas of discrimination covered by legislation: Equal pay; sexual discrimination; racial discrimination; Disability. You need to be particularly careful not to discriminate in your recruitment procedures, especially when placing job advertisements. There is a wealth of legislation protecting employers and employees, and in almost all cases it is preferable to take professional legal advice when recruiting, rather than take a risk.

We list below the main acts concerned with discrimination, along with sources where you can get more detailed help and guidance.

Equal Pay Act 1970

The Equal Pay Act (1970) makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate between men and women in terms of their contracts of employment. You need to be aware that it covers all the contractual benefits, not just pay. So there must be equality in relation to:

  • Holiday entitlement
  • Pension
  • Child care benefits
  • Sickness benefits
  • Car and travel allowances

There are two excellent sources of further information:

Equal Opportunities Commission

They publish a Code of Practice on Equal Pay which gives practical advice and guidance on discrimination, as well as case studies illustrating examples of discrimination on the basis of equality.

Equality Direct

A free service affiliated to ACAS that gives business managers easy access to authoritative advice on a wide range of equality issues. The website has sensible advice and guidance written in plain English, whilst further advice is available for the price of a local phone call.

Sex Discrimination Act 1975

The Sex Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate because of a person’s sex or marital status when recruiting. Every part of the recruitment process is covered by the Act including:

  • Job descriptions
  • Person specifications
  • Recruitment advertisements
  • Application forms
  • Shortlisting procedures
  • Interviews
  • Selection methods

In practice

You need to be careful. Although employers accept that they can no longer advertise for ‘Girl Fridays’, the act makes a number of common job titles questionable, or even unlawful. For example:

Manageress implies that the vacancy is for a woman (although the term ‘manager’ is acceptable as it is commonly used regardless of gender)

Policeman is now Police Officer

Matron is now Nurse Manager

Head Master/Mistress is now Head Teacher

Salesman is now Sales Person

Further help

This is a detailed act that affects every aspect of the recruitment process. Fortunately there is plenty of help to hand. The Equal Opportunities Commission publishes a Code of Practice on Sex Discrimination, which gives guidance to employers and employment agencies on measures that can be taken to achieve equality between men and women. Further details are available from their website:

Equal Opportunities Commission

In addition, they have an excellent guide to advertisement wording and illustration, featuring examples of actual recruitment advertisements that come close to breaking the law.

Race Relations Act 1976 / Race Relations Amendment Act 2000

The Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of race. Race can be defined in terms of:

  • Racial group
  • Colour
  • Nationality
  • Ethnic origin

The Act applies to Great Britain only (England, Scotland and Wales). There is a separate Race Relations Order that applies to Northern Ireland. The Act covers all employers regardless of their size, and provides protection to all employees including vocational trainees and agency workers.

All aspects of the employment relationship are covered including:

  • Recruitment and Selection
  • Promotion
  • Transfer
  • Training and Development
  • Pay and Benefits
  • Redundancy
  • Dismissal
  • Terms and Conditions

The Act includes provision for direct and indirect discrimination, as well as victimisation. You can find practical, up to date information about the Act from the Commission For Racial Equality. Their website is

The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 came into force on 2nd April 2001. It requires public authorities to have due regard to:

  • eliminate racial discrimination.
  • promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different racial groups.

With regard to recruitment procedures, public bodies should monitor the recruitment, selection and progression of ethnic minority staff (and students) by grade, type of contract, pay and other benefits.


There are a limited number of exceptions to the above legislation. These are when being of a particular sex or race can be regarded as a genuine occupational qualification (GOQ). Examples include:

  • Actors or dramatists playing a specific role
  • Overseas workers, where the laws of the country worked in prohibit certain races, or gender, from doing the work

Further details of these exceptions are available from the Campaign For Racial Equality website.

Commission for Racial Equality

Disability Discrimination Act 1995

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 introduced new measures designed to end the discrimination which many disabled people face.

It protects disabled people in areas of:

  • employment
  • access to goods, facilities and services
  • the management, buying or renting of land or property
  • education

Many of the Act’s measures became law for employers in December 1996. Others are being phased in gradually.

With regard to recruitment and employment:

  • It is unlawful to treat disabled people less favourably than other people for a reason related to their disability
  • Employers must make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, such as providing extra help or making amending the job role
  • From 2004, employers may have to make reasonable adjustments to the physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access. Obvious examples include ramps, lifts and other means to ease access.

Further information is available from the Disability Rights Commission. They publish an excellent Code of Practice, copies of which can be ordered by telephone, or downloaded from their website:

Disability Rights Commission