An Employer’s Guide to Job Adverts

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Earlier this month, a salon in Gloucestershire hit the headlines when they were informed by the local Job Centre that their job advert for a ‘happy stylist’ was ‘discriminatory towards unhappy people’.

Not surprisingly this attracted a lot of raised eyebrows and cries of ‘the world’s gone mad’ etc., but the truth is, there are pitfalls lying in wait for employers when it comes to job adverts. In this article we look at the do’s and don’ts of job adverts, whether you are placing an advert for an external recruitment campaign, an internal recruitment campaign or you are advertising positions because of a restructuring exercise.

What should a job advert say?

Your advert should include the key details of the job role and what you need from the successful candidate, such as:

  • the job title
  • the name of the company
  • any specific qualifications and/or experience required
  • the skills required
  • the salary
  • the working hours
  • the person to contact regarding the vacancy
  • the closing date for applications
  • if references are required
  • that you require proof of eligibility to work in the UK

The job advert should give enough information to generate interest, be informative enough to enable candidates to decide if the job is for them and for you to ensure that you are making the best use of your time throughout the recruitment process. Afterall, you don’t want to be wadding through applications or interviewing candidates who want a full-time role if the role is actually part-time.

What can a job advert not say?

Your advert must comply with the Equality Act and broadly speaking should not contain any references to any protected characteristics or discriminate against anyone on the grounds of a protected characteristic, these are:

  • age
  • disability
  • race
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Language is important in job adverts, for example:

  • Use gender neutral job titles such as ‘Barperson’, ‘Salesperson’, ‘Server’ (rather than ‘Waitress’ or ‘Waiter’).
  • Where experience levels are concerned, why are you asking for 5 years’ experience? Is it essential? If not, don’t ask for it because you could be discouraging younger applicants. This is both potentially discriminatory (unless the role genuinely requires 5 years’ service) and also closes the door to a wide spectrum of the talent pool, which is bad business.
  • Are you a ‘Young, fresh, dynamic, fast-paced workplace of today, tomorrow, infinity and beyond?’ Well that’s great but ask the same from your candidates and you give an impression that you are seeking young applicants (even though we know those characteristics can and do certainly apply across all age groups!)

Be careful not to generalise or use language that says more about what you don’t want than what you do! Its easily done but can land you in hot water.

Are there any exceptions, where you can restrict applications from a certain group?

Yes and there are a lot of myths about this too.

For example, a women’s refuge can legitimately advertise for female candidates only. This is known as a ‘genuine occupational requirement’. Please note the word ‘requirement’, it must be essential as is evident in this example.

Genuine Occupational Requirements are not about preference and are only applicable in exceptional circumstances.

Can a job applicant bring a claim without even applying for a job vacancy?

Yes they can!

You could face claims for discrimination, these claims are uncapped and as such they are a cost that no business can afford.

Please see our guide to avoiding costly discrimination claims here.

Is it illegal if I don’t advertise a position?

No, its not illegal but if you only advertise internally you may be narrowing your selection pool and also if you have certain groups underrepresented in your company already e.g., females or a particular ethnicity, your risk of discrimination may be greater if you rely on your existing pool of staff or word of mouth/personal recommendations.

I am advertising for a vacancy which is quite physically demanding. Can I state that it is not suitable for persons of a certain age or someone with a physical impairment?

No. By all means state the nature of the job and experience required, such as ‘working at height’ for example but if your advert contains statements that someone should be ‘physically fit’ or needs to provide a ‘declaration of fitness on request’, or words to that effect then you are openly discouraging persons with a physical disability from applying. This is discriminatory.

There may be exceptions to this in certain sectors and for certain roles, however it is vital that you seek advice from our experts.

I’ve had issues before with applicants joining the company and immediately going off sick. Can I state in the job advert that they will be asked to complete a medical questionnaire with their application?

No. Medical questionnaires/health declarations can be used but they are only permitted to be issued once an offer of employment has been made. Otherwise, they are being used as a recruitment screening tool which will almost certainly result in someone declaring an ongoing medical condition being excluded from the recruitment process. Their condition may be classed as a disability under the Equality Act and therefore you may find yourself on the receiving end of a discrimination claim.

Sickness absences are something you can manage but using your recruitment process to prevent it from happening, is not advised. Please see our previous articles on managing sickness absence:

  • An Employer’s Guide to Absence Management – Part 1
  • An Employer’s Guide to Absence Management – Part 2

Can I state in a job advert that being able to speak ‘good English’ is essential?

The use of the phrase ‘good English’ is very vague and is more likely to imply that you are seeking applications only from persons for whom English is their first language.

If the role you are recruiting into requires a specific standard of literacy and English language proficiency, usually because the role requires verbal and written communications with the wider public, then you can state this within your advert.

However, be very careful and ensure that if you are asking for a certain standard of language skills that it is an essential requirement of the role and that any means of assessing those skills are applied equally and fairly to all candidates.

In summary, you don’t want to end up in an Employment Tribunal for the wording of a job advert. It’s easy to get wrong but also easy to get it right with the right advice. Don’t assume recruitment is outside our remit, it isn’t, call us today.

For more information on promoting equality and diversity and protecting your business from discrimination please see our previous articles:

And finally…. is the word ‘happy’ discriminatory?

Thankfully no it isn’t but it’s all about context. So, whilst the DWP have since backtracked and apologised for declaring the word ‘happy’ to be a discriminatory word (and rightly so), there may have been more to this than meets the eye.

In this case the employer simply wanted to convey that she had a happy workplace and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, could she have been saying more about what she didn’t want in a candidate rather than what she did want, namely that ‘unhappy people need not apply’ and therefore was she indirectly discouraging applicants who have (or have had in the past) diagnosed mental health problems which can cause sufferers to suffer from periods of low mood and sadness, such as depression?

It may seem a little far-fetched but the moral of the story is that if you are at all in doubt about any wording you intend to use for both internal and external advertising, get in touch with our experts. Please quote your Client Account Number on all correspondence and telephone calls. 24-hour client advice line: 0800 151 2935.

Happy advertising!

author avatar
Elena Boura