Legislation overview

There is no single Act which just governs recruitment and selection; however there are many employment law acts which deal with the employment relationship and have an impact on pre-employment issues as well. The most significant example is the Equality Act 2010.

The main legislation dealing with recruitment and selection are set out under the following headings.


The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) aims to provide an effective legal framework for preventing discrimination at all stages of the employment relationship. It makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against job applicants (and existing workers) because of a 'protected characteristic'. The protected characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity

The Act also has measures that have direct implications outside the employment context, for example measures affecting the provision of public services, transport, rental accommodation and higher education etc.

EU discrimination legislation

There are a number of European Directives dealing with inequality and less favourable treatment which may have an impact on recruitment and selection, including the following:

  • Equal Treatment Framework Directive (2000/78/EC)
  • Equal Treatment Amendment Directive (2002/73/EC)
  • Race Directive (2000/43/EC)
  • Directive implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services (2004/113/EC)
  • Directive on equality between men and women in matters of employment and occupation (2006/54).

Other discrimination legislation

Other legislation which may affect recruitment and selection includes legislation preventing fixed-term, part-time and agency workers and employees from being treated less favourably than comparable permanent employees. This includes:

  • The Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002(SI 2002/2034)
  • The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 (SI 2000/1551)
  • The Agency Workers Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/93).


During the pre-employment stages issues may arise concerning ex-offenders with current or spent convictions. The following legislation covers convicted offenders and the the vetting and barring scheme for people working with children and vulnerable adults:

  • Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
  • Rehabilitation of Offenders 1974 (Exceptions Order) 1975
  • The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.

For more information on the vetting and barring scheme, pre-employment criminal records checks and the rules governing 'spent' convictions during the recruitment process see the related Q&A How should employers deal with job applicants who have criminal convictions or spent convictions?.

Eligibility to work in the UK

The main Act dealing with eligibility to work in the UK is the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. However the following EU and national legislation may have an impact on the framework dealing with both legal and illegal migrant working in the UK:

  • Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006
  • Freedom of Movement Directive (2004/38/EC)
  • Commonwealth Immigrants Acts 1962 and 1968
  • Immigration Act 1971
  • Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • UK Borders Act 2007
  • UK Borders Act 2007
  • Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009

For more information see the related Q&A Should an employer ask a job applicant if they are a foreign national and if they can work in the UK?.

Data Protection

The Data Protection Act 1998 restricts employers collecting and using such data in the recruitment and employment process and defines certain types of information as 'sensitive data'.

Northern Ireland

The legislation referred to above does not all apply to Northern Ireland. for example the Equality Act 2010 does not apply and there is also different legislation for example the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 and the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000.

For a brief overview of the differences in employment law between Northern Ireland and Great Britain see our factsheet.

More information is on recruitment and selection in Northern Ireland is available on the Labour Relations Agency website.

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