The sting – employers must beware the growing threat of bogus applicants

One of the least known threats to business at the moment is that of career applicants – individuals who make false applications for employment, with the intention of bringing a discrimination claim against the employer.

These individuals would like to project the image that they are doing it “for the common good” or for “social justice”. However, these people aren’t the social saints they claim to be, they use the full weight of the law to extract as much money as possible from companies.

Currently, career applicants tend to have some form of disability, gender reassignment, gender discrimination or are from ethnic communities. But with the introduction of sexual orientation and religious belief discrimination laws in December 2004 and the introduction of age discrimination by October 2006, such claims are likely to increase across a far broader range of applicants.

The most worrying aspect of the whole situation is how simple it is – the individuals involved make duplicate applications to employers with identical experience and qualifications.

They make one key change, including or omitting one piece of information that may lead to a discrimination case. The use of computers then allows them to mix the layout and format enough to ensure the notices that they are from the same person.

For example, and employer would receive two applications with almost identical information but looking very different in layout and typeface, one has a false British name and the other identifies the applicant as having a non-British nationality.

If the unsuspecting employer selects only the ‘British’ application, the career applicant could almost certainly establish a successful race discrimination claim for non-selection for interview on discriminatory grounds.

In such a scenario it is extremely difficult for the prospective employer to defend such claim, as it would be almost impossible to justify the non-selection for interview in non-discriminatory terms.

Though such claims are far from common, they are on the increase and there are a number of individuals known to various Employment Tribunals because they have made repeat claims.

A tribunal is likely to award compensation equal to the wages the applicant would have received in the job for the period of time it would be reasonable for the applicant to find work of equal or greater value. Typically such a period of loss would be in the region of three to six months.

It is also important to appreciate that loss of earnings awards may be greater in instances of disability discrimination as it is generally accepted that a disabled person will take longer to find work.

Additionally, the prospective employer would have to compensate for ‘injury to feelings’, which could range between £500 and £5,000.

While it is possible to win a claim against such an applicant, prevention is the best way forward for employers, and is a relatively easy task:

  • Try to avoid relying solely on CV applications. You should also ensure that applicants are required to complete a standardised application form/questionnaire, which ensures clear applicant data, making objective comparisons of applications easier

  • Ensure that you have clear and objective selection criteria for determining which applicants will be called for interview and which will be rejected. This can then be used alongside the information on the application form, ensuring applicants are called or rejected for interview on non-discriminatory grounds

  • Ensure the selection process is documented. This will assist when defending any subsequent discrimination claims. Letters should be sent to applicants calling them for an interview or rejecting their application, and must set out the criteria on which they have been selected or rejected for interview.

  • Introduce an equal opportunities policy and confirm it in job advertisements. It will be good evidence that your organisation encourages and supports diversity in the workplace.

  • Try to ensure that your workforce has diversity in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, religious backgrounds and disability. This will provide powerful anecdotal evidence that your organisation does not discriminate against applicants.

Whatever your own views about career applicants, it is important to ensure that your business’ recruitment procedures safeguard against such claims. It will save both money and reputation if you do it right.

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