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Avoiding Discrimination in Job Adverts

Avoiding Discrimination in Job Adverts

Written by James Osborne

Last edited May 3, 2023

Avoiding Discrimination in Job Adverts

There are 9 ‘protected characteristics’ which it is unlawful for an employer or recruiter to discriminate against, both at work and in job ads. We’ve listed them here..Many businesses have policies in place to avoid and prevent discrimination in the workplace, but are we doing everything we can to avoid it in job ads?

Job adverts are covered by the Equality Act 2010, so whether direct or indirect, discrimination is against the law, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with some grey areas.

So, how can we avoid breaking the law and keeping clear of those difficult grey areas?

There are 9 ‘protected characteristics’ which it is unlawful for an employer or recruiter to discriminate against, both at work and in job ads. These 9 characteristics are:

  1. Gender
  2. Age
  3. Race
  4. Religion/beliefs
  5. Disability
  6. Marriage/civil partnership
  7. Sexual orientation
  8. Pregnancy or maternity
  9. Gender reassignment


An employer or recruiter cannot show preference towards a particular gender in a job advert, unless there is a genuine, specific requirement for a role. Even with the best intentions (e.g- trying to even out the gender split in an office) it is not acceptable to favour men or women during the recruitment process. Exceptions to this, where specification of gender would be acceptable are in particular roles that call for a specific gender, for example in hospitals, prisons, or a role such as a care assistant.

When writing job ads, language to suggest a particular gender, such as using gender specific words like ‘waitress’ or ‘salesman’ should not be used either. To avoid this phrases like ‘waiting staff’ or ‘sales person’ should be used instead.   


Employers or recruiters should not refer to an ideal age for a candidate, which means not using words like ‘young’, ‘mature’ or ‘youthful’ to describe them. Exceptions to this would be where the job roles genuinely require a person over a specific age i.e a shop assistant needing to be over 18 to sell alcohol. It is only in these circumstances that you would be able to ask for a candidate’s date of birth.


Asking for a specific number of years’ experience is also seen as discriminating. The reason for this is that if someone wouldn’t have been able to achieve this number of years, due to their age, then it would mean they would be excluded from the job, and therefore discriminated against.

To avoid this the focus should be on the skills required for the role, which we all know that people of the same number of years’ experience can vary hugely in their skill sets anyway. Even stating that you would like ‘recent graduates’, which has been picked up before in adverts, according to a report from the BBC.

Race, Religion and Nationality

Although employers are required by law to check a person’s eligibility to work in the UK, they are not permitted to ask someone about their race, religion or nationality, unless there is a genuine reason for knowing this information for the job role.

Terminology to determine or exclude someone’s race, religion or nationality should not be used in a job advert. An examples of this is:

BAD: ‘Spanish Call Handler’ or ‘Native Speaker of Spanish’

GOOD: ‘Spanish Speaking Call Handler’


Terminology that would exclude anyone is terms of disability should be avoided. This could be words like ‘active’ or ‘athletic’, unless again there is a genuine, specific requirement for a role that is being recruited for.

You are only able to ask about health or disability if there are necessary requirements for the role that cannot be met with reasonable adjustments, or if you need to find out if someone needs help in order to take part in a selection test or interview.

Even stating that someone ‘holds a valid driving licence’ can be seen as discriminatory if the person will not be required to drive for the role, so it is not as necessarily as straight forward as ensuring that you do not exclude disabled people.

Disabilities also need to be taken into account throughout the rest of the recruitment process. The place that the interview is being held should be accessible to wheelchair users, so that they are not excluded at this stage.

Other Considerations

During the recruitment process candidates do not have to tell the employer or recruiter about criminal convictions that are spent. If the employer or recruiter does know about criminal convictions that are spent, they should treat these as if they did not happen. There are exceptions to this, for example at schools.

Membership of a Trade Union cannot be held against someone either, through the recruitment process or while at work. This works both ways, in that you cannot decide not to employ someone because they are a member of a Trade Union, but also you cannot insist that someone becomes a member of one in order to employ them either.

The place that you post your job ad could also be seen as discriminatory too, if for instance you only place the ad in a women’s magazine, which men are very unlikely to see the advert, so wouldn’t get a chance to apply. Ensuring that you advertise the role across a range of platforms would help with this issue.

Types of Discrimination and How to Avoid It

It is best to try and avoid discrimination right from the start. It is also not only the person who writes the job ad who will would get the blame, but also the person who posts the ad too. There are two types of discrimination in job ads that need to be avoided, direct and indirect.

Direct discrimination- This is where a job advert makes it clear that the employer only wants to hear from people of a specific age, gender, race, etc.

Indirect discrimination- This is where job adverts state criteria that would make it impossible for a person of a particular age, gender, race etc. to apply for the role, unless there is a justifiable, genuine reason for to state certain criteria for the role.

A tip to avoid discrimination: Get another person to read the job advert who is not necessarily involved with the company to get an outsiders view. This way they may alert you to something that you had not noticed before.

The general rule to avoiding discrimination: Avoid using language which could be viewed as discriminatory or may exclude people based on the 9 protected characteristics we have discussed, unless there is a genuine, justifiable requirement for the role. Think about whether these requirements need to be in the job advert too, or whether this is something that can be discussed with candidates.

Assigned an account manager who’s job is to hold people accountable.

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