Nearly one in five bosses admit to unlawfully discriminating against individuals when advertising jobs online, in particular women and anyone over 50.
The targeted form of advertising allows bosses to deliberately stop certain people from seeing particular roles, when placing them on websites and social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
Some employers are pushing this beyond what’s lawful and straying towards clear discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as age or gender.
Of the 18 percent of bosses who admitted to this unlawful practice, nearly a quarter (23 percent) admitted to discriminating against women and 32 percent revealed they have blocked over 50’s from seeing their posts.
62 percent of bosses also admit to using the tool to actively seek out certain people based on criteria such as their age, gender, disability or race.
One in ten bosses openly admitted to using the unlawful practice on ‘several’ occasions, showing a possible pattern of exclusion.
This deliberate discrimination has been revealed after 503 bosses, who are directly involved in hiring and firing, were surveyed by employment law firm Slater and Gordon.
The study found that half of those who actively use this sort of targeted recruitment, where only people in a certain age group can see the ad, said this practice is spoken about openly within their place of work.
Unlike older applicants, those under 35 years old appeared to be the most sought after with 67 percent of bosses trying to cherry pick younger applicants.
The group least liking to be identified as a key target are individuals with a disability, with only five percent of bosses who used this method, pinpointing the group as a target.
Employment lawyer, Claire Dawson, from Slater and Gordon, said: “These results confirm what we have known for some time, that older workers are discriminated against by employers but it also shows they are not the only group.
“I was deeply concerned to see that the targeting extends to excluding women from seeing job ads in some cases. The rise in the use of social media as a recruitment tool gives enormous power to employers to exclude or target certain individuals- often without anyone knowing this is going on.
“It’s clear that some employers are pushing this beyond what’s lawful and straying towards clear discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as age or gender.
“Targeted advertising could prevent certain groups from having the opportunity to apply for particular roles, simply because they don’t know of their existence, raising the question of whether social media platforms are increasing unlawful discrimination in recruitment.”
The survey followed from recent news that a number of multi-national companies have targeted only young people during a recruitment campaign on Facebook. The job adverts only ran on Facebook feeds of 25-36 year olds, so for the vast majority of the users the ad did not exist.
It is against the law to discriminate against someone simply because of their age, gender or race but cases usually only come to light if those discriminated against know or suspect it is taking place.
In most cases, the excluded applicants will have no idea that a percentage of positions they could legitimately fill are being kept from their view.
When asked why they have actively eliminated certain groups, the employers that do, said they already had a strong candidate profile in mind (63 percent), wanted to improve cultural balance within the workplace (42 percent) or in some cases, to save money (14 percent).
One revealed they wanted to attract ‘fresh young graduate talent with the latest skills and ideas’, however some voiced a conflicting opinion, stating that ‘younger people tend to take things less seriously and often lack experience.’
Nearly half (46 percent) of those responsible for hiring and firing said that targeting those by age was more acceptable, than excluding those because of their gender (18 percent) or ethnic background or disability (12 percent), leaving many questions open as to whether older workers are excluded to avoid having a higher percentage of the work force who would be closer to retirement.
Employment lawyer, Claire Dawson, from Slater and Gordon, said: “Some employers do, whether they mean to or not, discriminate in some form when looking for new employees because they may have a picture built up in their head of the person they feel might be ideal in the role.
“Targeting of groups who are under-represented within the workforce can be lawful positive action under UK law. The purpose of such positive action however should be to get more applications from the under-represented groups, not to completely exclude other groups from seeing the ad.
“However, there is no evidence to suggest that the reason older workers or women were excluded from ads was positive action. To set out to completely stop people being able to even view a job advert, let alone apply for it, based on their age and sex is unlawful. Putting together a candidate profile should be about the skills and experience required for the job, not a person’s age or sex.
“This is something that businesses and social media platforms should take a hard look at and address, quickly.”
Interestingly, although they have been routinely excluded by some, women have also been deliberately targeted for certain roles (27 percent) as have men (18 percent) and older applicants (18 percent).
BAME workers (Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities) were also targeted (17 percent) as were those of certain social backgrounds (13 percent).
Only 17 percent of business owners said they were aware that it was unlawful to actively discriminate in this way, with 57 percent believing the practice came under a ‘legal grey area’ and one in five had no idea whether it was lawful or not.
44 percent also admitted they had no idea of the implications of this recruitment method if applicants or existing employees were to find out.
And 30 percent said they felt it was an acceptable way to recruit new staff, as long as they did not get caught.
Although some bosses openly admit to using this unlawful practice, 70 percent of all of those surveyed agreed they would consider implementing something to stop certain groups being excluded during advertising, if other employers did the same.
This suggests that raising awareness of the implications of this practice among employers is key.
Employment Lawyer, Claire Dawson from Slater and Gordon, said: “It would be interesting to see the profile of the candidates who are eventually recruited for jobs that have been advertised in this targeted way. If those candidates are in the target age group or gender then it proves that discriminatory advertising leads to discriminatory results. Evidence of this practice could be used by existing employees who want to prove that their employer has discriminated against them because of their age.”