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Interview Tips....From the Employer's Perspective

By: William Hanly | Posted on: 09 Nov 2015

Interview Tips....From the Employer's Perspective


As the economy and enterprises begin to grow and prosper again, many businesses will require new staff to share the workload. While acknowledged as a vital process in finding the best candidate for the position available, future employers should take note of the potential pitfalls that they might fall foul of during the interview process. The wrong type of questions could result in an action that could prove quite costly for a business, both in the form of compensation and in potentially adverse coverage which could damage what may previously have been a stellar reputation. This article hopes to provide some practical tips which if followed, should significantly reduce the risk of an action being taken against an employer as a result of the interview and hiring process.

A potential Employer must bear in mind the nine grounds of discrimination under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2008 and avoid treating one person in a less favourable way than another person in a comparable situation on any of these grounds. The nine grounds are: Gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, race or membership of the travelling community. Discriminating on one of these grounds in the access to employment, in conditions of employment, in selection for promotion or during training periods could prove very costly for a business.


The Advertisement:


Before any interview takes place, a business will be likely to advertise the available position. The key here is to appear open to all suitable candidates. The discrimination does not need to be as obvious as something like “Irish man needed for position.” On first glance, one might consider an advertisement looking for a “young and dynamic professional” to reflect a business who are growing and looking for a candidate who may possibly be a recent university graduate without huge experience in the field in question. However, these very words have been found to be discriminatory on the grounds of age in the case of the Equality Authority v Ryanair [2001] 12 ELR 107. The advertising employer may not even intend to discriminate but if the advertisement could be reasonably understood to indicate an intention to discriminate, it will be seen to be discriminatory.

It must also be kept in mind that any specific requirements in an advertisement must be directly related to the job in question. A potential employer might feel that they should include the requirement “fluent English essential.” If the position advertised does not absolutely require fluent English, this advertisement would be found to be discriminatory.

Retaining a recruitment agency to advertise and hire a potential employee does not absolve an employer of their duty not to discriminate. An employer will still be responsible for any advertisement published by a recruiter. The result of hiring somebody on foot of a discriminatory advertisement might not only result in damages being paid to unsuccessful candidates but may result in an application from the Equality Authority to the Courts to place an injunction on the proposed appointment.


The Interview


Before an interview takes place, potential employers should keep in mind the need to keep a careful note of what transpires at interview. At the very least, these notes should be kept for one year or an Equality Officer may find that there was a lack of transparency in the hiring process. Ideally, the notes should form part of the employee’s personnel file which can be requested from the employer by the employee. Any notes from an interview should always be professional and related to the interviewee’s ability to perform the job at hand. An employer could quite easily fall into the trap of beginning their interview notes with something like: “Margaret, English, late 20s, married.”  While an employer may only mean to write this as a means of identifying the candidate, this could be seen to be discriminatory on the grounds of race, gender and marital status in a potential action.

The questions asked at an interview should avoid the protected characteristics mentioned above. Indeed, these questions should also not be included on any application form. While the asking of these questions is not in itself wrong, disqualifying somebody from a position based on their answer is and therefore, it is safer not to ask these questions. It could be quite easy to ask a non-national about where they have come from and what it is like there, or to ask a mother what arrangements she will be making for childcare should she be successful in her application. While an employer may contend that these questions were “ice-breakers” in an effort to get to know the interviewee, they could very well form part of the evidential claim in an action against them.

Something else which may form part of an evidential chain against an employer, though not in itself discriminatory, is gender imbalance on the interview panel.  Although not ideal, potential employers will not always be able to conduct interviews with a gender balanced panel and though this will not lead to a finding of discrimination by itself, it is something that should be avoided if possible.

With regard to candidates with disabilities, the position is that if, on provision of reasonable accommodations, the candidate would be fully competent and capable of performing their duties, those provisions should be made and overlooking a candidate on the basis that the potential employer did not wish to provide reasonable accommodation would be clearly discriminatory. 

Something that employers may not be aware of is that representations made by parties at an interview to each other could be deemed to form part of a subsequent contract. Employers should bear this in mind when making any inferences regarding potential salary increases, promotions, hours of work or any other issues which might be seen as potentially advantageous to the employee but which the employer might not be able to deliver on.

While the interview process may be seen by many as a process where potential employers meet and get to know potential employees, there are many potential pitfalls on which an aggrieved candidate may take an action. As candidates become increasingly aware of their rights not to be discriminated against, two important pieces of advice to pay heed to would be that comments to the candidate and interview questions should be kept professional and a written note of what transpires should be retained.

If you are considering advertising and interviewing new employees and wish to run any potential advertisements, proposed interview questions or issues with us, we would be delighted to help.