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Interviews: How to avoid discriminatory lines of questioning

As an employer, you clearly want to be able to find out a much as you can about any prospective employee. However, it's also essential to avoid any lines of questioning which could be deemed discriminatory. So just what is out of bounds in an interview?

Certain lines of interview questioning could be deemed discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010, and should therefore be avoided. These include questions around:

  • Nationality, place of birth, ethnicity or religion: While it's perfectly acceptable to ask questions relating to a prospective employee's right to work in the UK, questions about their nationality, ethnicity or religion should be avoided. Information on ethnicity can be gathered for diversity monitoring purposes, but this should be kept separate to the recruitment process.
  • Marital status, children, lifestyle choices and sexuality: Questions around these areas should be avoided as they could be considered discriminatory - for example, an employer questioning a recently married woman about her plans to have children, with a view to determining the likelihood of her taking maternity leave in future.
  • Illness, disability, height or weight: It's not acceptable to ask an interviewee about significant time taken off sick from a previous position, until you have made a conditional job offer. The Equality Act makes it unlawful to ask health related questions of job applicants unless you have made a conditional job offer. Don't forget that you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments when considering a disabled person for a job that they are applying for.
  • Age: Beyond establishing that an applicant meets age requirements for a particular job, further questions could be deemed discriminatory, such as asking older applicants when they plan to retire.

The Equality Act does allow employers to take positive action if they feel that job applicants with a particular protected characteristic suffer a disadvantage connected to that characteristic, or if their participation in an activity is disproportionately low. Employers would need to show evidence that people with that characteristic do face particular difficulties in the workplace, or are disproportionately under-represented. In these circumstances, it is possible to use the fact that a candidate has a protected characteristic as a 'tie-breaker' when determining who to appoint.

Acas runs training courses for employers on all aspects of recruitment, selection and induction and offers equality and diversity training.

Visit the Acas training and business solutions area for more information.

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