‘Fuddy Duddys, ‘Decent Looking Girls’ & Illegal Interview Questions

Perfecting your talent acquisition strategy is tough.

Even brands with a seemingly faultless hiring process attract the wrong type of publicity from time to time. An age discrimination lawsuit against Google in the US made the headlines this week and highlighted an earlier case where a candidate was allegedly described as ‘fuddy-duddy’. This comes at a time when Google face criticism for an image of Barbie featuring in search results for ‘CEO’ in Google Images’

Avoiding discrimination, implied or otherwise, in the hiring process is a legal requirement in the UK but it isn’t as simple as it sounds. Pizza Hut’s advert for ‘decent looking girls’ is a good example of how not to attract attention to your job post but Pizza Hut isn’t the only ‘offender’. A survey published this week by employment solicitors Thomas Mansfield revealed that the problem of illegal interview questions is still very real.

The following questions are deemed illegal in UK employment law and should not form part of any pre-employment screening or feature in e-recruitment or posts:-

Questions about ethnicity or place of birth

Employers can ask if a candidate has the right to live and work in the UK but must not question a candidate about their place of birth or ethnicity. To minimise this problem, modern applicant tracking software can include specific permitted questions as part of the initial screening process relating to their right to work in the UK.

Age, marital/relationship status

While the majority of employers are aware they cannot discriminate against job seekers based on age or sex, questions about a candidate’s marital status or whether they have any children are also prohibited. Employers may ask if a candidate is over the age of 18 when appropriate.

Sickness and disability

Hiring managers cannot question applicants about their health or disability during interview. This extends to details of absence due to sickness in their current job. Exceptions may apply where a position includes a certain level of physical fitness.Recruiting software which automates reference requests can incorporate questions on health issues only after a candidate has received a job offer.  

Criminal convictions

Certain jobs, in the healthcare and childcare sectors for example, require formal checks carried out by the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) but candidates are under no obligation to disclose spent convictions. Again, recruiting software can incorporate relevant questions in the pre-employment checks.

Religious (or other) affiliations

Questions regarding religious affiliation are deemed illegal. Similar restrictions apply to questions about membership of any other association or affiliation, which extends to trade union membership.


General questions about lifestyle, for example, if the candidate drinks or smokes, are not permitted. These issues can be covered by a health check during a final assessment prior to employment and again after a job offer has been made.

Don’t get personal

Careless remarks or inappropriate job adverts may damage an employer brand and the success of its talent acquisition strategy. To prevent potential problems, the interview process should not veer towards the personal.


The CIPD recommends the following during pre-employment checks:-

  • Reliance on fact, not opinion
  • Ensure all checks are relevant to the post to be filled.
  • Transparency with candidates during the process.
  • To see the candidate ‘in the round’.
  • Ensure non-discrimination and comply with current data protection laws.

While the publicity attracted by Google is unlikely to dint the success of its talent acquisition strategy, it is a reminder to UK employers of the importance of being aware of current legislation.

Hiring solutions with recruiting software

Sophisticated recruiting software can help to minimise discrimination in your business but ultimately the buck stops with HR and the company leadership. For employers concerned about inappropriate job postings, choose recruiting software which restricts approval for job posts to the hiring manager.

Please refer to the Employment Law website for up-to-date information. 

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