Asking recruits to be "happy is not discrimination

08 September 2020
Asking recruits to be

The DWP has conceded that it was wrong to advise a hair salon to take down a job description which required recruits to be ‘happy’.

The situation arose when Alison Birch, the owner of a unisex hair salon, advertised for a new staff member through the Find a Job service, a website for the advertising of new roles. The advert was asking for a part-time hairdresser who was expected to be fully qualified, have previous experience working in a salon and, crucially, that only ‘happy, friendly’ stylists should apply.

After the advert was posted, Ms Birch was contacted by Find a Job, who advised her that the advert was discriminatory. The reason given was that the requirement to be ‘happy’ served to discriminate against recruits, as they could have felt they were unable to apply for the job because they did not consider themselves a ‘happy’ person. Ms Birch was also informed that she could be read ‘rules on discrimination’ but it was a ‘long document’.

Following this conversation, Ms Birch refused to alter the wording and demanded instead that Find a Job take the advert off their site. This complaint was later heard by the DWP, who run the Find a Job service. In response, they have since agreed that the word ‘happy’ was not discriminatory and, as such, have offered to repost the original advert.

AThis rather bizarre story is garnering a lot of press attention, however it is important to remember that it does remind organisations of the care they need to take when constructing job adverts. Whilst the word ‘happy’ on its own isn’t discriminatory, this requirement could have denied opportunities for those with mental health impairments, such as depression, who could have felt it difficult to always display themselves as noticeably ‘happy’.  

Although the intention of Ms Birch was clearly not to offend anyone, and indeed this is the main reason why the DWP have retracted their concerns, it is important to remember that discrimination can arise accidently. This is because tribunals will look to address the thoughts and feelings of the individual who believes they have been aggrieved in this way; if it is found to be reasonable for them to have felt discriminated against, a potentially costly claim can succeed.

It is therefore vital that organisations carefully consider all language used when constructing a job advertisement to make sure it does not serve to discriminate against anyone on the basis of a protected characteristic. Adverts should be approved by more than one person and feedback taken seriously. Candidates can also be asked if there is any part of the recruitment process, such as the advert wording, that made them feel they were placed at a disadvantage.