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UK employers are continually breaking the law by asking this one question

Lianna Brinded
Head of Finance, Yahoo Finance UK
Employers are asking illegal and discriminatory questions in job interviews, a study has revealed. Photo: Reuters

When you apply for a job, it should not matter what you plan to do with your body or your personal life. This is why there is a likelihood of breaching employment law by asking potential staff about how many sick days they have taken in their last employment, what their marital status is, or whether they plan to have any children.

But according to a study by science and technology recruitment firm Hyper Recruitment Solutions (HRS), a bulk of companies subject candidates to illegal questioning such as if they were planning go on maternity or paternity leave.

Of the 1,000 managers polled for the study, 40% said the question is acceptable and 80% managers do not think the question is potentially illegal, even though it could be heavily perceived as biased or discriminatory.

Ricky Martin, who set up the recruitment firm after winning the BBC reality TV show ‘The Apprentice’ in 2012, said: “It’s pretty shocking to unearth that such practices are happening every day in the hiring process. It is imperative British bosses are educated on workplace practice, to put a stop to such shocking interview practices which lead to unprecedented inequality.

“Official training should be mandatory across all business sectors for anyone involved in the process of interviewing prospective candidates.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) commissioned a poll by YouGov earlier this year and it showed that businesses were “decades behind the law.” Out of a survey of 1,106 senior people at private companies that have the authority to make recruitment decision, a third of those thought it was reasonable to ask a woman about her “plans to have children in the future during the recruitment process.”

Other stats from the survey are equally depressing:

  • 59% think a woman should disclose if she is pregnant at the time of the recruitment process.
  • 46% think it’s reasonable to ask a woman if she had young children already.
  • 40% claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace “take advantage” of their pregnancy.

The discriminatory attitudes seem to stem from, among other reasons, the belief that pregnancy places “an unnecessary cost burden” on the workplace, which has been perpetuated by high-profile business people.

Sir Alan Sugar, the host of ‘The Apprentice’ said in 2008, “everything has gone too far. We have maternity laws where people are entitled to too much.

“If someone comes into an interview and you think to yourself ‘there is a possibility that this woman might have a child and therefore take time off’ it is a bit of a psychological negative thought.

“If they are applying for a position which is very important, then I should imagine that some employers might think ‘this is a bit risky’. They would like to ask the question ‘Are you planning to get married and to have any children?.'”