Failure to apply an objective process in recruitment resulted in discrimination

A black health adviser who was unsuccessful in his application to become team manager was a victim of race discrimination after his employer did not provide him with written feedback for three months, a tribunal has ruled. The interview was held in May and feedback was not provided until August.  When it was eventually provided, it was “of minimal value as it simply repeated the initial verbal feedback”, the tribunal said, and it concluded that the delay in providing feedback amounted to less favourable treatment on the grounds of his race.

The claimant, who worked for the ambulance service, had applied for the position of team manager five times. The position required a degree or its equivalent, and the employee considered himself to be “highly qualified” for the job because he had two master’s degrees.  After being rejected, the claimant received general feedback to the effect that, despite being a very strong applicant, other candidates were more qualified and suitable for the position.

He later found out that the individuals hired for the role were less skilled and knowledgeable than he was, and the chosen candidates were all white and British.

During the Covid pandemic he reapplied for the position of team manager. He stated in his expression of interest that he had developed personally and that he had a comprehensive understanding of the NHS 111 services. He had spent the previous eight years acting as the first point of contact for the NHS 111 service as a health adviser. The four categories of the person specification were: values and behaviours; education; knowledge and experience; and skills and capabilities. The tribunal was informed that the claimant and six other candidates who had been shortlisted for an interview had all satisfied the requirements for the position of team manager.

On the short list of seven candidates, all of whom were internal applicants, the claimant was one of two black employees; the other five were white. The current team managers and the successful applicants were all white. He was again rejected but was told, “You are a strong candidate, but other candidates are more qualified and experienced.” After requesting written feedback and waiting three months for it, it stated that, whilst the claimant was very “self assured”, he did not respond to questions well.

The employment judge found that the claimant suffered a detriment by not being hired for the position and that in the absence of an explanation from the employer, there was a “prima facie” case that the claimant was treated less favourably by not being hired for the team manager position, which means the burden of proof shifts to the respondent. The tribunal found the delay in feeding back to the claimant was poor, the verbal feedback was sparse, and the eventual response was inadequate.

This case highlights the importance and benefits of completing an objective selection process; using a clear scoring criteria and marking all applicants consistently against this to mitigate any risk. As long as employers use the same fair and consistent interview and selection process for all candidates, the risk of discrimination claims is reduced. If you feel you need training on managing recruitment, contact us on 0800 121 9995 for further information.

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