Louise McAloon of Worthingtons Solicitors Belfst provides legal advice on appropriate recruitment and selection procedures
A decision recently issued by the Industrial Tribunal in Belfast in the case of Claire Francis Doherty -v- Belfast Tile Company Limited (Case Ref 1715/08) serves as a costly reminder to employers of the potential pitfalls in recruiting staff.
The Tribunal unanimously decided that that the claimant was discriminated against on the grounds of race by Belfast Tile Company Limited in the failure to appoint her to the post of bilingual secretary in September 2008 and that she was discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex and age by the Company in the arrangements made to determine who should be appointed to the post. The claimant attended an interview for the post on 10th September 2008 and was interviewed by two representatives of the Company, namely Mr Fox, Manager, and Ms Goyal, who is Spanish. The Tribunal found as fact that the interview was very short, only 10 to 15 minutes. The claimant was not asked any questions in relation to the skills referred to in the Job Card for the post and was asked only in very general terms whether she had used computers. She was not asked about her previous work experience. The interview was conducted in both Spanish and English. In the course of the interview, Ms Goyal made a call from a telephone which was in the room. She spoke to someone whom the claimant understood to be her Spanish manager. Subsequently, Ms Goyal asked the claimant her age. She also asked the claimant, firstly, if she was married, secondly, if she had a boyfriend, thirdly, if she wanted to have a boyfriend and, fourthly, if she had children. The interview ended very quickly thereafter.
The tribunal found as a fact that Ms Goyal’s manner during the interview was unfriendly and abrupt. The tribunal further found that Ms Goyal displayed a lack of enthusiasm and disdain towards the claimant as a potential candidate for the post.
In the course of these proceedings, it became clear that the candidate appointed to the post of bilingual secretary was a Spanish national and native Spanish speaker. In the case pleadings, the Company indicated that the Spanish level of the candidates was the deciding factor in selection. The Company also stated that a perfect Spanish level was required, that the claimant’s Spanish level was not fluent and that she made basic linguistic errors when she spoke in Spanish in the course of the interview. The tribunal found as a fact that the claimant was at least as well qualified and had comparable work experience and skills to that of the successful candidate.The tribunal further found as a question of fact that the claimant did not make basic linguistic mistakes in Spanish during the course of the interview.
There were no pre-set questions for the interview. The Tribunal noted that the Company did not have any Equal Opportunities Policy nor any Recruitment and Selection Policy and Procedure. Further the Company had not provided any relevant training in recruitment and selection or equal opportunities to the interviewers.
By way of concluding remarks, the tribunal placed on record its shock and dismay at the treatment afforded to the claimant in this case. Having heard the evidence, the tribunal was satisfied that the Company effectively set out to recruit a native Spanish speaker for this post with the likelihood being that the successful candidate would be a Spanish national. The Tribunal was also left with the strong suspicion that the Company’s purpose in asking a series of inappropriate, irrelevant and potentially discriminatory questions was to assess whether the claimant was likely to require maternity leave in the near future. The Tribunal further recorded that it was appalled at the Company’s complete disregard for accepted standards of practice in relation to recruitment and selection as set out in the Equality Commission’s Codes of Practice and guidance for employers.
The Company was ordered to pay to the claimant the sum of £5,500 in respect of injury to feelings together with the sum of £1423.38 in respect of loss of earnings.
Louise McAloon is an Associate Partner with Worthingtons Commercial Solicitors, Belfast specialising in employment law.