When an employer may make a decision based on age, race or another protected characteristic

When a protected characteristic is crucial for a job

In rare cases an employer might be able to prove an applicant needs a certain protected characteristic (such as a person's sex, race or religion) to do a particular job. This is known as an 'occupational requirement'.

For it to be an occupational requirement, both of the following must also apply:

  • the protected characteristic is essential for and relates to the main tasks of the job
  • the employer can prove it has a good business reason ('objective justification')

Find out more about objective justification.

Examples could include:

  • a refuge for women who've experienced domestic violence advertises for a female support worker, as the residents would feel safer if the worker is female
  • the Catholic church advertises for a priest who's Catholic
  • a television company advertises for an actor who's black and male to play a specific role
  • an organisation supporting deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users advertises for a counsellor who's a deaf BSL user

If the employer believes there's an occupational requirement and advertises the job again later, they must check the requirement is still within the law. For example, they could take legal advice.

When the protected characteristic is religion or belief

The law on religion and belief discrimination can be complex. If you need to talk it through, you can call the Acas helpline.

It's a good idea to get legal advice before making a decision that relates to a protected characteristic.