Some five years ago, I called the editor of one of the leading newspapers and informed him about an age discrimination advert I had noticed. I advised that where the organization that subscribed for the advert to be run is sued, the paper could be joined. Because the Paper ought to have known that publishing such advert was discriminatory to a section of the Ghanaian Populace, they could be sighted for aiding such discrimination. At the time, the editor I contacted thanked me but did nothing.
Let me give a simple scenario and perhaps we can all appreciate the seriousness of these things. So a company advertises a position and says “only persons below 35 years should apply”. Unless the job itself or the modalities for doing it requires special skills that can be found in only persons below 35 years of age, I can apply with an age of 42 and expect to be picked because I am well qualified for the job. And where I am not picked, I can sue for age discrimination and aver that I have not been picked because of my age.
Since the laws of Ghana prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, the burden of proof will lie with the organization to show cause for why I was not picked. And since many organizations do not keep proper records of the recruitment process, especially on selection criteria etc, the organization may not be able to justify why I was not picked other than the fact that I didn’t meet the age requirement.
There is however an exception for discrimination where the job needs a “Bonafide Occupational Qualification”. Example, a fire officer must necessarily pass a ‘heights’ test, only children can be hired to model kids’ clothes, and a person is statutory bared from certain jobs unless they have specific qualification to practice …such as doctors, pharmacists, pilots etc.
So this week, we will look at the general provisions on discrimination especially in relation to job recruitment and job adverts. Then we will also discuss Equal Employment Opportunity best practices and provide examples of such discrimination in our job advertisements. Finally, we will try to suggest ways in which newspaper editors and Recruitment Professionals may comply with laws against discrimination during recruitment as well as job advertisement.
Equal Employment Opportunity
General provisions for the protection of the job seeker are found under Equal Employment Opportunity policies. These are workplace policies that ensure that all job candidates are given equal opportunity in applying and competing for a job vacancy as advertised. Such policies prohibit discrimination against applicants on grounds of race, gender, religion, creed, ethnic origin, social or economic status, disability or politics. In Ghana, these rights are enshrined in the 1992 Constitution as a fundamental human right for all citizens.
In New Zealand for example, the Employers and Manufacturers Association’s guide for employers states that anyone who finds work for a prospective employee or who finds employees for employers is prohibited from discriminating against employees on any of the grounds stated above. Equal Employment Opportunity provisions in the United Kingdom are sometimes so stringent that organizations in some jurisdictions are required to employ a certain number of colored or disabled persons at the workplace.
Job advertisements that seem to suggest or that can be taken to indicate discrimination on any of the grounds stated above is unlawful. Action can be brought against the respective publisher of the paper, its editor as well as the employer or the organization or persons who placed the advert.
The Ghana Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651) which is a municipal law drafted in accordance with the ILO Conventions including Convention 111, and also the 19992 Constitution of Ghana, states that “an employer shall not in respect of a person seeking employment or of persons already in his employment discriminate against the person(s) on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed, social or economic status, disability or politics. Social Status has been explained to currently include status of HIV/AIDS and other STDs.
But truth is, the situation on the ground, on newspaper and internet pages show that recruitment professionals and editors continue to discriminate against job seekers. This is evident in the obvious wordings of job vacancy advertisements placed in the dailies. For example, an advert may require only women of a certain age to apply for the job or worse still, only French or Spanish speaking male applicants may be invited to apply and considered for a job.
A few years ago, I was appalled at a job advert that stated that only nationals of a particular country are eligible to apply for the job position. Indeed, the position was not one that only the nationals of the
particular country qualified for. Ghanaians and other nationals resident in Ghana also qualified to do that kind of work. So I called the newspaper in question and drew their attention to the seriousness of the situation as well as the discrimination issues at stake. Nothing was done.
Examples of Discrimination in Job Adverts
The first example is discrimination on grounds of gender. Take a close look at job adverts in the dailies and you will find statements like “only females should apply” or “female receptionist wanted” or “seeking male bar attendant for immediate employment”. Now why are these statements or adverts discriminatory? It is because the job advert immediately disqualifies some class of people from applying or even getting the job. No one said and employer or recruiter can’t have a preference for a male bar attendant in job searches. But if the position is to be advertised, care must be taken to make the application open to all persons (male, female, disabled etc) and offer everyone who wishes to apply the equal opportunity to take a shot at the job.
Most often, when people place adverts for secretaries and receptionists, they state clearly that only females are invited to apply or only females will be considered. This is clearly discriminatory because there may be a lot more males out there with the same qualifications required to do the job. However, there are exceptions where for male dominated professions, females may be encouraged to apply or vice-versa. Let’s note that encouraging some class of candidates to apply does not necessarily mean they will be considered above others for the position. The rational would normally be to encourage that class to apply because under normal circumstances, they will not apply for such a position.
The next example is discrimination on grounds of age. Look out for adverts that make statements like “only applicants below 35 years should apply” or applicants must not be 28 years by November 2010” or similar statements. Let me now get to some specifics. A Job Advert for a Management position on page 20 of one newspaper in 2012 stated as a subheading of the job advert; “Age Limit – Not more than 40 years”. Other adverts will give a range of the age for qualifying candidates. In this particular paper I reviewed before writing this article, an age limit “not below 30 and not more than 40 years” was stated under qualifications.
Okay, this is not to chastise a specific paper. But it is just to show how normal this breach of employment Law and the Constitution has become. Let me give one last example of age discrimination in our newspapers. One reads like this “are you a young dedicated ….technician between the ages of 25 and 35
years, and looking for a job? Then send applications and CVs to…”. These are clear examples of age discrimination. Why? Because there may be a lot more people out there who fall outside of the age limit specified by the advert but may be qualified and also interested in applying for the job. The adverts specifically eliminate or prevent these interested candidates from the equal opportunity to apply for and get the job.
So I am quite passionate about this one. In some newspapers, you may read a vacancy advert like “a Christian based NGO is looking for believers to fill the position of typist….”. Now the position of typist and qualifications needed for doing the job does not need one to be necessarily Christian or a believer to do the job. To advertise openly that only “believers” are being sought to fill the position would mean a clear discrimination against non-believers who may be qualified and interested in applying for the job.
Another example is an advert I read once that stated that young Christian men are needed to fill an administrative position in an organization. A statement like that flouts legal provisions of non-discrimination on grounds of both gender and religion. In as much as the Constitution grants religious rights of freedom to exercise and practice various faiths and creed as well as religion, it does not allow for discrimination against its citizens on grounds of religion, faith or creed. No one is prevented from targeting specific persons for particular jobs in the house of God, but where the vacancy is advertised publicly, such advert cannot seek or indicate a clear bias for a particular group or sect.
My favourite organization that has carefully balanced its preference of faith and the provisions for non-discrimination is Data Bank Financial Services. The organization clearly states that its organizational values are based on Christian Principles. Yet, the organization opens its doors to all manner of persons provided they have the requisite skills and qualifications to do the job. The difference here is that even if non-Christians make their way into the organization, they are not prevented from exercising their faith or religion. The organizational values remain and continue to guide and regulate the behaviour of all workers in the organization.
Non Discrimination Compliance
When I am challenged by employers as to why they must comply with certain workplace or employment Laws which are not being enforced, I always tell them to wait until they get into trouble and find out that the Laws are indeed being enforced. If no one has sued or taken legal action against an employer for infringing on his/her rights, it does not mean the laws on discrimination do not exist or that the laws are
not being enforced. Every employer, recruitment professional, press house and newspaper editor must ensure that adverts placed on job vacancies do not infringe on discrimination regulation.
So how do we begin to comply with non-discrimination in job advertisements? We may begin from seeking the assistance of workplace experts to develop an Equal Employment Opportunity policy for the organization. This will assist the organization in streamlining recruitment rules and regulations and especially job adverts, to take care of discrimination and its attendant matters. Recruitment professionals must also endeavour to upgrade their knowledge on discrimination laws in employment matters and especially recruitment and the advertisement of job vacancies and positions.
Secondly, newspaper editors and publishers must ensure that any job vacancy material they publish does not infringe on discrimination laws. It is helpful to establish guidelines or a specific policy for the publication of job adverts. This will ensure that scripts for advertising job positions do not breach the discrimination laws of the land during recruitment advertisement.
Finally, job candidates or their guardians must begin to take on employers or organizations who continue to blatantly flout the discrimination provisions in vacancy advertisements. Press houses including electronic and print alike should be challenged and brought to book for aiding and abetting discrimination against job candidates on grounds of race, colour, gender, age and so on. This is only but a caution. Don’t hold it against me if you are a press house, especially when I approach you to advertise my firm or some job positions.