Last month the Equality and Human Rights Commission published updated guidance for employers and advertisers on how to avoid unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 in adverts for jobs, goods or services.

While discrimination in advertisements can be obvious - well-known examples being adverts for "barmaids" instead of "bar staff", or those seeking "young, vibrant candidates" - the fact remains that the Commission received over 100 complaints that adverts were discriminatory over the last year.

Particularly glaring examples included:

  • A recruitment agency that stated over 45s need not apply.
  • A hotel which stated it could not offer accommodation to disabled people.
  • Bars advertising for "shot girls" and garages seeking "Saturday boys".
  • Vacancies for taxi-drivers being advertised only in Polish language.

The guide, which is available here, sets out useful, simple guidance covering the situations in which adverts can be discriminatory (e.g. requiring certain physical characteristics; being of a certain age; having a driving licence). It also contains sections on where to advertise; using job descriptions and photos; and requiring proficiency in a language.

The guide highlights the fact that:

  • Potentially discriminatory requirements of a role should be avoided unless it can be shown that they are a real requirement of the job that is proportionate to achieve a legitimate aim. For example, requiring a firefighter to pass a physical fitness test is likely to be lawful whereas asking applicants to be of a particular height may not be.
  • An employer can require a job applicant to have a particular protected characteristic only in very limited circumstances. They would need to be able to show that having that protected characteristic is a justifiable 'occupational requirement'. For example, certain acting roles may require someone to be of a particular sex, race or age.

Importantly, the guidance serves as a useful reminder that liability under the Equality Act can extend not just to the employer placing a discriminatory advertisement, but also to those who produce or display the advert such as newspapers or recruitment agencies, whether in print or online.

If you have any doubts about the content or placing of an advert, please get in touch.