Interviewing A Potential Employee – How Do I Handle It?

By Employment Solicitor, Jack Balmer.

I am responsible for our recruitment and selection processes, and am concerned about the diversity of our workforce. I don’t want our company to miss out on the best talent because of unfair assumptions made by an interviewer. How do I handle it?

The interview is the final hurdle in many recruitment and selection processes, often reached by candidates who have successfully cleared a number of preliminary stages. With decisions often taken by a small panel of senior staff, or a sole interviewee, you must try to manage the conduct of and processes used by each decision maker to narrow the potential for allegations of discrimination.

The duty to avoid unlawful discrimination includes how you treat potential employees. This means that your recruitment processes must be as fair and objective as possible, allowing the best candidate to succeed. The interview is where you are at greatest risk of making subjective decisions or stereotypical assumptions about an applicant which could result in a discrimination claim.

The Equality Commission recommends that interviews are “structured” and “systematic”, with the aim of reducing the potential for stereotyping or overly subjective decision making. Fortunately, there are a number of practical steps you can take to achieve this:

  • Where possible, use an interview panel rather than rely on a sole decision maker;
  • Give each interviewer equality training and guidance on how to objectively apply selection criteria and avoid making stereotypical assumptions;
  • Only ask questions which are relevant to the job description, person specification and the candidate’s application;
  • Actively consider if any reasonable adjustments are needed to allow a disabled candidate to fully participate in your interview process; and
  • Decide your selection criteria – and their weighting – beforehand. Make sure they are non-discriminatory and scored objectively.

The consequences of asking an irrelevant question which shows discriminatory stereotyping (whether done so overtly or accidentally) cannot be understated. In Corus Hotels v Woodward and another, the Claimant interviewed for a position as a hotel receptionist, and was asked if her ability to perform the role would be comprised by her childcare responsibilities as a single parent. After being rejected without any explanation, she successfully brought Tribunal proceedings against the Hotel and was awarded her compensation of £4,000. The Hotel was also publically criticised by the Tribunal for the “crassly sexist manner” in which they had conducted the interview.

Any award for injury to feelings in a discrimination claim has both financial and reputational consequences. You should review your recruitment and selection policy and make sure that you have processes and safeguards in place to make interviews as fair and objective as possible.

Drafting recruitment and selection policies and procedures can raise complex legal issues. Expert advice will help you develop policies and procedures that can provide a safeguard against discrimination claims. Having these protections in place will also help ensure that suitable candidates are not unfairly excluded because of an interviewer’s overt or subconscious biases – helping your business to recruit and promote a diverse mixture of the brightest and best applicants.

While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.