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Beware Discriminatory Recruitment Adverts, Wherever you need to Recruit in the World

Posted by: Lucy Donald

Recent media coverage reported that The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in Singapore has cracked down on a maritime organisation which it believed had discriminated against Singaporean employees. They have actually taken action against about 100 companies for posting discriminatory job advertisements previously and this latest case was an opportunity to reiterate that all firms must consider Singaporeans fairly for job vacancies.

While we’re not about to go into the specific details of the case in Singapore, or any other, in our commentary, it does raise the issue for us as a global recruiter of the complexities of ensuring our customers stay within the law in terms of their recruitment advertising activity. And this is the biggest challenge for us as we support a customer base across many, many different countries, where the laws on recruitment and advertising content vary about as much as the culture and language does.

However, one element that does remain common is that all jobseekers should have fair opportunities for employment and career development, whether they are nationals of the country concerned or expats.

And this is really where we, as a global business, place our emphasis. Whatever region of the world in which a business needs to recruit, they should endeavour to put in place recruitment, employment and staff development practices that are open, merit-based and non-discriminatory. It sounds easy doesn’t it? 

We cannot possibly go into detail on all the laws that apply to each country we work with in this article but instead will pose some questions, which may just encourage you to see the bigger picture in terms of any recruitment advertising that you undertake. Obviously we’re always on hand to advise you and our consultants have in-depth knowledge of the constraints, limitations or otherwise which relate to recruitment advertising within the many countries we recruit across.

How can you avoid discrimination in your job adverts?

Writing job adverts these days can be a real challenge as throughout the world there are more and more rules and regulations governing the wording that can be used. The rules do vary vastly depending on the country in which you wish to advertise and recruit but they are there to ensure all advertising meets relevant discrimination or employment law. 

As WRS have our head office in the UK and are registered as a UK company, this means we are bound by law to adhere to employment advertising law governing the UK when placing adverts on our own website. This is something that is not always that easy to do when we are recruiting within a country where the laws on advert content differ vastly from those of the UK. For example, while there isn't a definitive list of banned words or phrases for job adverts, you have to use your discretion to work out whether an advert is discriminatory on the grounds of race, disability, sex or age.

Lucy Donald, a Director at WRS, with many years of international recruitment experience, explains: “As an ethical recruiter, we keep an eye out for discrimination, which can broadly fall under two categories, these are direct discrimination and indirect discrimination. So whether your advert content emphasises that you seek a specific candidate type (direct), or you set clear guidelines within your advertising that make it difficult for a particular demographic to apply (indirect) you could be flouting the employment laws for the country in which you wish to recruit.

Here are some different areas of discrimination you should consider:

Racial discrimination

  • There are some situations where being of a certain race can be seen as a genuine occupational qualification. For example, your organisation may be taking positive action to encourage people from certain ethnic groups to apply for a job because that specific demographic is underrepresented within your business, or at certain job level, or both. South Africa is one example of a country which has taken measures to rectify past injustices to ensure fair ethnic and gender representation, particularly where senior and technical roles such as the ones WRS recruit for are concerned. WRS always support diversity in the workplace and are proud to help our clients achieve their recruitment goals, however the most important factor is the candidate’s ability to do the job in question.
  • Even where language is an important part of the person’s ability to successfully carry out the requirements of a specific role, the wording of your job adverts needs to be carefully phrased, for example, focus on an individual’s ability to converse in the language required rather than being from a particular country, using  'fluent Norwegian speaking' rather than 'Norwegian'.

Sexual discrimination

  • Any job titles you use should never be gender specific. 
  • Also consider that for many regions, you should never imply that hiring one gender may provide a benefit in terms of physical performance.  
  • You might want to increase the headcount of your female workforce, as traditionally the Mining, Oil & Gas, Marine and Energy industries male to female ratios are very high, but bear in mind that in the vast majority of countries it is strictly forbidden to specify a gender in job adverts. However, there are certain roles where there is a genuine occupational need to favour an employee of a certain gender, but this should be made very clear within your advert content and worded very carefully.

Age discrimination

  •  Within the UK at least, age discrimination is relatively new legislation in terms of writing job adverts, however it is yet to be adopted in many other regions of the world as in some countries WRS recruit within the promotion of upper age limits is commonplace.
  • Including upper or lower age limits is now unlawful in the UK as are the use of implied terms such as, ‘senior'. You may question why but each of these terms can be interpreted as excluding a candidate from applying for a role based on their age.
  • Asking for a certain level of experience can also be construed as discriminating, for example, you could be seen as excluding them from applying as their age means they have not had sufficient time to gain the experience you require.
  • Lucy gives her advice: “There are ways you can attract the right candidates without discriminating on basis of age; ask for candidates who can demonstrate their competence in a given skill set. However specifying a number of years they must have had that skill, can definitely be deemed discriminatory within many countries now.

Disability discrimination

  • All organisations should show that their vacancies are available for applicants with disabilities to apply for. This is definitely the case for the majority of the countries in which we recruit. Also be aware that this covers not only job adverts but you should also consider the rest of the recruitment process, such as making your offices/sites wheelchair accessible for job interviews. 
  • There are obviously some physical capabilities that are crucial to a range of technical positions across Mining, Oil & Gas, Marine and Energy, but you must ensure that any prerequisites included in your advertising are a necessary requirement to carry out the duties of the role, rather than a ‘nice to have'.


In many countries, it's not only the person who writes the advert that can be at fault, it's also the individual or organisation that publishes it. WRS have a checklist in place to ensure the content falls within the advertising regulations that we need to adhere to. 

Lucy summarises, “It’s important to ensure that wherever you are recruiting in the world, your business stays within the law, whilst also finding the most appropriately qualified candidate for the role.

Some food for thought in the minefield of recruitment advertising – please get in touch if you would like some one-to-one guidance on this with one of our experienced consultants.

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