Alastair’s Place

Software development, Cocoa, Objective-C, life. Stuff like that.

“Junior” and the Law

OK, so as readers of my blog will know, my company is trying to recruit a Junior Software Engineer.

We’ve got adverts in all the usual places, as well as on CocoaDev and the obligatory post to cocoa-dev. So I decided that it’d be good to advertise through the U.K.’s university careers services, which you can do via Prospects Net.

Since posting that advert, a couple of the careers service people have refused the ad unless I change the job title so it doesn’t use the word “Junior”, citing the “Age Discrimination Act”. Now, I’m obviously not in favour of unnecessary discrimination, and leaving aside for a moment the obvious stupidity of a blanket ban on taking factors like age and sex into account when considering employing someone (a stupidity on which Minette Marin recently expounded in the Sunday Times, no less), I broadly agree with the goals of the various pieces of legislation.

However, there are a few points that are worth mentioning here:

  1. There is no such thing as the “Age Discrimination Act”. What there is, is a Statutory Instrument (not an Act) called “Statutory Instrument 2006 No. 1031: The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006” (which you can read on the Office of Public Sector Information website).
  2. The Statutory Instrument is quite clear, in Part 1, as to what is and is not covered by the regulations. Part 1 Section 3 is the section dealing with “discrimination on grounds of age” and makes it perfectly plain that what is covered by the regulations is actual discrimination, not some wording in an advert.
  3. The word “Junior” is nothing to do with age. It is merely a designation to describe the level of experience of the holder of a post, just like “Senior”, “Consultant”, “Principal” et al. None of them have anything to do with age, though because of the way some companies promote their staff over time it is certainly true that the average age of Junior staff will be lower than that of Senior staff and so on. For our part, we will be hiring the person best qualified for the job, and if that means that we have found an older person with the enthusiasm and skill that we are after, so be it.
  4. There is in any event no liability for an advertiser listing an advert for an employer or agency. All liability rests with the person doing the discriminating (and even then there are get-out clauses; for instance, if you instruct an agency to discriminate in some way and they could not reasonably be expected to have known that it was illegal to do so, the liability rests with you).

What annoys me the most, I think, is that this kind of petty, small-minded rule banning the use of the word “Junior” has been invented by someone who almost certainly hasn’t read the legislation. Instead, it is based on rumours, press coverage and general misinformation.

The same thing happens frequently with the Data Protection Act, which we are often told is the excuse for a company behaving in an unhelpful manner towards its customers. Sometimes those self-same companies are actively breaching the actual rules at the same time as enforcing pointless, petty-minded echoes of the legislation on their real customers.

Anyway, a plea: If you are running a business, or indeed an institution of some sort, please review the legislation yourself before inventing pointless nonsense of your own. The British Government kindly makes all of its legislation available over the Internet at the Office of Public Sector Information website1. If you can’t understand it, ask a lawyer to help you! But whatever, please don’t make stuff up.

1 Am I the only person who things that Her Majesty’s Stationery Office was a better name? The Office of Public Sector Information sounds to me like something straight out of 1984, simultaneously pompous and menacing.