Don't Let Your Copywriter go Overboard on Job Adverts -

Don’t Let Your Copywriter go Overboard on Job Adverts

Rebecca Stevens, a solicitor at Charles Russell LLP, explains that while a quirky job advert will appeal to the right demographic, stepping over the line could land you in hot water if you use words that could be discriminatory.


The Problem

Complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Authority against Ryanair that their adverts were “sexually suggestive and likely to cause widespread offence”. The complaints were against the print advertisements, saying that they were “sexist and objectified women”.

So how do employers avoid discriminating in advertising and recruiting for vacancies?


The Law

Employers need to ensure they do not discriminate against prospective and existing employees in their approach to advertising and selecting individuals to fill roles.

As well as following the ASA guidelines on how business can advertise their products and services, employers must also comply with the Equality Act 2012. The financial consequences of non-compliance can be very high.

The Act states it is unlawful to discriminate against prospective and existing employees on the grounds of any of the nine “protected characteristics”: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Companies cannon discriminate against or victimise a person

  • In the arrangements made for deciding to whom to offer employment
  • In relation to the terms of employment offered
  • By not offering them employment

However, in limited circumstance, having regard to the nature or context of the work, where a particular protected characteristic is an occupational requirement of the role, discrimination on the grounds of a protected characteristic may be lawful.


Expert Advice

Employers should prepare a detailed job description and person specification before advertising a vacancy, to clarify the experience required for the role.

When preparing the job advertisement, employers should avoid using words that could indicate a pre-determined bias towards candidates with a particular characteristic.

Inappropriate pictures should be excluded from any adverts.

Employers are generally prohibited from asking prospective employees about their health or asking them to complete a health questionnaire. There are limited exceptions to this prohibition, including where it is necessary to enable the company to make reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process or to determine whether the candidate can carry out a function which is instrumental to the work concerned.

Being able to refer to a detailed job description will assist employers in determining whether such questions are necessary. If there is any doubt, it is better not to ask such questions.

When interviewing prospective employees, employers should avoid asking about their personal life unless the question is directly relevant to the requirements of the role. Interviewers should not make assumptions about a candidate’s personal life or preferences on any discriminatory grounds.



  • Ensure staff involved in the recruitment process have equal opportunities training and are familiar with your equal opportunities policy. Keep this training regular and updated.
  • Do not keep any equal opportunities and diversity monitoring forms with the job application, to avoid allegations of discrimination.
  • Ensure you ask each candidate the same questions in interviews to ensure no applicant is unfairly prejudiced in the recruitment process.
  • Keep written records of reasons behind the decisions being taken in the recruitment process in order that they can be referred to if challenged.



A company’s financial liability in discrimination claims can be high as compensation for discrimination in uncapped. Discrimination claims can cover loss of earnings and there will be an additional award for injury to feelings, which can be up to £30,000.

(Source: Caterer April 2012)

Comments are closed.