Legal quiz: Recruitment advertising

1. A law firm contacts you to recruit a corporate assistant solicitor with two years’ post-qualification experience (PQE). Do you:

(a) Advertise for a PQE corporate assistant.

(b) Set out some of the skills needed in the ad, and say that the role will ‘ideally suit a lawyer with approximately two years’ PQE’.

(c) Not mention the desired length of service, and instead set out what the role requires in terms of skills and experience.

2. Which of these phrases rings alarm bells?

(a) ‘Female worker required for counselling role at women’s refuge’.

(b) ‘Secretary required for CEO of advertising agency – ideal candidate will be blonde, female and under 30’.

(c) ‘Mature female required as au pair for two children of professional couple’.

3. A vacancy has arisen for an accounts assistant for a company with a fourth floor office in an old building with no lift. Your client has specified that it will only interviewable-bodied candidates who can handle the steep climb up the stairs each day. Do you:

(a) Go along with their request and specify that only able-bodied applicants may apply.

(b) Refuse to place such a discriminatory ad, no matter what the consequences for your firm.

(c) Explain to them this could be unlawful and discriminatory, and explore other options for finding the ideal candidate.

4. How many examples of discrimination can you find in this rather ill-advised ad?

‘The Eastborne Pensioners Jogging Club seeks a new treasurer: she must be mature, of UK origin, and a regular churchgoer. The successful candidate will enjoy jogging, needlework and will have a cheerful and sunny disposition’.

5. Why is it a good idea to ask specifically whether a candidate has a disability?

Having received an answer, what safeguards should the employer/agency take with the information it has received?

6. In a recent case, an atheist maths teacher working in a Roman Catholic high school was turned down for the post of acting principal because he was not a Roman Catholic.

When he complained to an employment tribunal, did it find in his favour or in favour of the school?

7. In an employment tribunal case a few years ago, when a male candidate applied for a nursery nurse position with a children’s nursery through the job centre, his application was refused. When the job centre spoke to the nursery, which of the following replies did it receive?

(a) “We interviewed both men and women and decided that your candidate was not suitable for the post.”

(b) “It’s none of your business who we offer a job to.”

(c) “Look, we live in the real world and know what the realities are. A man of 50 is no use to me, and besides I only have one toilet.”

8. When a golf club wished to appoint a new company secretary, why was it criticised by an employment tribunal for its recruitment process?

(a) The job ad specified that only men should apply.

(b) The job ad was gender-neutral but the vacancy notice was placed only on the noticeboard in the men’s changing rooms.

(c) The job ad welcomed applications from female members.


1. (c)

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations prevent recruiters from using age-related criteria. This ad will discriminate against both older and younger solicitors who have the relevant skills to fulfil the role but are the ‘wrong age’. Recruiters must specify the skills required to allow employers to select the appropriate candidate irrespective of age.

2. (b) and (c)

Discrimination legislation allows recruiters to specify that candidates must have certain characteristics that are “genuine occupational requirements” for the role. While a refuge may realistically be able only to employ female workers to counsel women who are victims of domestic violence, the other examples are expressions of the preferences (or prejudices) of the employer.

3. (c)

The Disability Discrimination Act prevents less favourable treatment on grounds of disability and requires employers to consider “reasonable adjustments” to help the worker overcome a disability. In this example, prejudging the ability of disabled candidates may be discriminatory.

4. (6)

The ad describes the ideal candidate as ‘she’ ‘mature’ is potentially age discriminatory ‘of English origin’ is discriminatory on grounds of race ‘churchgoer’ discriminates on the grounds of religion or belief a preference for jogging may exclude candidates who are physically disabled and finally the requirement for ‘a cheerful and sunny disposition’ may exclude candidates suffering from depression or other mental illnesses. Only the stipulation that the successful candidate will enjoy needlework appears to pass the test.

5. An atheist teacher was recently awarded compensation after his application for “acting principal teacher of pastoral care” was refused because he was not Roman Catholic. The school had a system of ‘reserved posts’, such as headteacher or guidance teacher, which could be filled only by candidates approved by the Catholic Church. A tribunal ruled that the system was not justifiable in law and found in favour of Mr McNab, although the decision has been appealed.

6. Employers are recommended to ask candidates to disclose any disability prior to interview so that arrangements can be made to facilitate access to the interview (in terms of either timing or location). The employer should, however, be careful that any subsequent refusal to interview, shortlist or offer employment to the candidate can be justified on non-disability related grounds.

7. (c)

Mr Shiells, aged 50, was a qualified nursery nurse. He applied for a nursery nurse position at a day nursery. When asked why the nursery had refused to interview, a member of staff responded in the terms set out above. The tribunal upheld Shiells’s claim that he was the victim of sex discrimination.

8. (b)

Candidates have the right to complain about discriminatory ads under the Sex Discrimination Act where the discrimination complained of constitutes discrimination in the “arrangements” made for determining who is to be offered employment. Placement of an ad is arguably part of the “arrangements” for determining who should be offered that employment.

For more on recruitment advertising, see Personnel Today’s Guide to Employer Branding on 23 January

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