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Leaning over backwards to be ‘PC?'

18 November 2009

We live in an age where political correctness is all. Like it or not, we have to operate in this regime, but some are going too far, not least in the area of discrimination. Some big organisations seem to be so keen to demonstrate their PC credentials that they end up breaching the very laws they are leaning over backwards to uphold, comments a Willans Partner.


Take the example of the former serviceman who applied to join the police. He passed the entrance tests only to be told that the constabulary in question was unable to offer him a place because they had to meet ‘quotas’ in relation to ethnic origin. In fact what this means is that they were proposing to select recruits on the grounds of race, which would be unlawful and discriminatory.

Another example came from the BBC. “The BBC is actively seeking an older female newsreader, as it seeks to counter accusations of ageism.” reads a news report on the corporation’s own website. Had they acted on what was presumably a rather hasty announcement, and tried to recruit an older female, they could have been discriminating on the grounds of age and sex.

Even Amnesty International are not immune. They refused to promote an employee, who was of northern Sudanese ethnic origin, to the position of researcher for Sudan. Amnesty’s subsequent defence to her claim was that her ethnicity would compromise their perceived impartiality. It may have been a noble enough reason, but the courts said that the motive was irrelevant when the treatment was on the grounds of race.


It is dangerously easy for employers to fail to identify the danger posed by this aspect of discrimination law. Take the very common situation where a small supplier company seeks to secure contracts from a large organisation or public body. The tendering process will often be initiated by way of the supplier’s business effectively being ‘vetted’ for its compliance with the politically desirable model. If, in anticipation, the would-be supplier seeks, through recruitment, to put themselves in the correct shape to strike a ‘desirable’ balance between, say different sexes or races, then they will be acting unlawfully and will be vulnerable to litigation, most commonly from an unsuccessful applicant.

The fact that so many large organisations are kindling this culture of compliance—and are doing so in the sincere belief that they are not doing anything wrong—highlights the extent of the misunderstanding about this area of law.

In short, if you recruit on the basis of race, sex or age, you are probably breaking the law … and don’t let anyone try to tell you differently!


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