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HR FAQ – what’s the difference between positive action and positive discrimination?

You may have heard the terms “positive action” and “positive discrimination” used in relation to recruitment.  Do you know what they mean and which method you CAN use without getting into trouble?

In April 2011, a change brought about by the Equality Act can have an effect on the way you recruit new staff.   The change in the law means that “positive action” will be allowed.  “Positive action” means that you can choose to hire a candidate from an unrepresented group, provided they are as qualified for the role as other applicants.

As an example, companies in the IT industry traditionally have more male employees than female.  Positive action means that these companies can now offer a job to an equally-qualified female candidate because of her gender.

In the same situation, however, the company would be breaking the law if they gave their female applicants preferential treatment in the recruitment process because that would be “positive discrimination” and therefore illegal.

As far as recruitment advertising is concerned, you can actively encourage applications from an unrepresented group as long as you don’t exclude any other group in the process.  So, for example, you can place an advert saying that you actively encourage applications from women for this particular role but you can’t reject a male candidate on the basis of his gender.

Where you place your job adverts also has a part to play.  In addition to your usual channels, you should also give consideration to where the unrepresented group in question will see your ad.  That will probably mean exploring the use of other media but as before, the key thing to remember is that you should not exclude any other group of people in the process.

In a nutshell then, you can offer a job to someone because of their gender, ethnic background etc ONLY if they are as qualified as other candidates.  If you choose that individual because of their gender or ethnic background and they are not as qualified as other candidates then you’d be breaking the law.

For more information or advice on your recruitment strategies, give us a call on 01487 815720.

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