What’s in a name?

How much can you tell about a person from two printed words on a piece of paper? It is possible to potentially work out quite a lot about a person from their name. A name can let you know the sex of the person, or their race. It could potentially let you estimate a person’s age. This is quite a lot of information from just two words. However none of this information will determine whether or not they are the right person for a job. Despite this, it is a recruiter’s first impression on an applicant. Whether it is conscious or subconscious, the applicant’s name is likely to have an affect on how the recruiter reads the remainder of the application. This certainly has the potential to be discriminatory. The information which you can deduce from a name (sex, race, age) can give rise to claims of discrimination.

The Prime Minister hosted a round table discussion this week with a number of the major employers in the UK. The results of the discussion could have a drastic impact on the way employers recruit staff. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss discrimination, whether it be conscious or subconscious, in recruitment and the proposal of name-blind recruitment. Name-blind recruitment involves carrying out the initial recruitment process without having sight of the applicant’s name. Large employers such as the Civil Service, Teach First, HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money, KPMG, BBC, NHS and local government are set to commit the scheme. With so many large employers implementing these changes, and regular promotions from CIPD on their benefits, it is likely that other businesses will be pressured into following similar schemes. In truth, it is hard to argue against implementing them.

Really employers should be asking themselves why are they putting themselves in a position where discrimination is a possibility? The name-blind scheme almost removes this possibility in its entirety. It may mean that employers have to spend more time sifting through the meat of the applications, but this is the information which will help you find the right person for the job. This is where the qualities of the applicant are found. Without any preconceptions created by a name, whether they are conscious or unconscious, employers will be able to read through the application and make a decision purely on the qualities of the applicant.

Overall a scheme that avoids any potential discrimination, and helps hire the best applicant for the job definitely has to be worth a consideration!

Andrew Wallace
Solicitor – Employment Law

Nothing Compares To You: Chosen Companion

Employees have a statutory right be accompanied at disciplinary hearings.  Who can be a companion at such meetings?  Can it be a friend?  A parent?  A lawyer?  Section 10 of the Employment Relations Act 1999 provides that the right to bring a companion at a disciplinary hearing means either a work colleague or a trade union representative.  This statutory right to be accompanied applies to disciplinary hearings – it does not extend to investigatory hearings.  However, an employer’s own policies or procedures might provide for a right to be accompanied at investigatory hearings.

In Stevens v University of Birmingham, the employer’s disciplinary policy conferred a contractual right for employees to be accompanied at investigation meetings by either a work colleague or trade union representative.  Mr Stevens was required to attend an investigatory meeting.  He had a difficulty identifying a companion within the contractual goalposts because he was not a member of the trade union and he did not have any suitable colleagues employed by the University who could serve as his companion.  From the outset of the allegations, Mr Stevens had been represented by a professional body, the Medical Protection Society.

The High Court found that the employer’s refusal to allow Mr Stevens to be represented by his chosen companion amounted to a breach of mutual trust and confidence which is implied into all employment contracts.  The Court placed weight on the fact that the MPS advisor was similar to a trade union representative and also the fact that the University had allowed the employee to be represented by that body at an earlier stage in the proceedings.  The seriousness of the allegations and the perceived inequality between the University (who did have specialist advisors) and the claimant was also relevant.

Although fact specific, this case demonstrates that the right to be accompanied at disciplinary investigation meetings will not always be confined to trade union representatives or work colleagues, even if that is what the contract says.  Employers should take care to be familiar with the terms of the disciplinary procedures.

Jack Boyle
Senior Solicitor – Employment Law