Equality and Human Rights Commission research report on recruitment in Britain

11 November 2016

The EHRC has published a research report examining employers’ practices and attitudes to employing UK-born and foreign-born workers.

The report looks at the results of research into employer and employee practices, perceptions and experiences of recruitment. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) aim was to understand whether there was any evidence of different treatment between UK-born and foreign-born workers with a right to work in the UK, the extent of discrimination on the basis of nationality, and what may be causing it.

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection from discrimination on the grounds of nine ‘protected characteristics’ including race, which covers ethnicity and nationality. The Act makes it unlawful for employers and their agents to discriminate against people seeking employment: they must treat applicants fairly and not discriminate in any arrangements for making appointments.

The research focused on sectors with a high proportion of foreign-born workers and a mixture of skill levels:

  • Food manufacturing
  • Accommodation (hotels, holiday and other short-stay accommodation, youth hostels and camping grounds)
  • Food and beverage service activities (restaurants, mobile food service activities, pubs and bars)
  • Social care
  • Computer programming

Workplaces across these five sectors that have at least 10 staff account for 6% of all UK workplaces. Twelve per cent of the UK workforce is employed in these workplaces.

The research is based on a literature review on discriminatory recruitment practices and migrant workers in the UK, quantitative surveys of workplaces and recruitment agencies, and qualitative interviews with employers, recruitment agencies and both UK-born and foreign-born workers in the five sectors above. The research is based on employer and employee perceptions of treatment. This allows the EHRC to identify practices which may be discriminatory, whether this is done consciously or not; however only a tribunal can determine whether unlawful discrimination has occurred.

Key findings

  • In most circumstances, employers appointed workers on their ability to do their job, rather than where they came from.
  • There was a small number of examples of approaches by employers and recruitment agencies that may lead to potentially discriminatory recruitment practices.
  • There was also evidence of a lack of knowledge about the law, which could also lead to unlawful discrimination. However, our evidence suggests that there is only limited clear and unequivocal evidence to suggest that employers might act on a preference to recruit foreign-born over UK-born workers, or vice versa.
  • EHRC’s research allowed them to check whether this held true through a variety of questions; looking at knowledge, approaches and practices, application outcomes, employers’ views of workers and experiences from employers, recruitment agencies and workers themselves.
  • Throughout the report the EHRC flag up where the evidence may indicate the potential for discriminatory recruitment practices.


Evidence from the report suggests that organisations providing advice and information to employers, recruiters and employees should focus on the following areas to ensure fair and non-discriminatory treatment:

  • Employers and recruitment professionals need greater understanding of their legal obligations in relation to recruitment so that they are not at risk of discriminating against candidates on the basis of their nationality, and are better able to demonstrate that they are using fair, lawful and transparent recruitment and selection processes.
  • Employers need to take reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment including that from customers and service users. The research finds that foreign-born workers experienced some hostility from customers, particularly in the care sector.
  • Employers need to ensure that all workers are treated fairly and apply their employment policies consistently. The qualitative research suggested that some UK-born staff believed that they experienced preferential treatment to foreign-born staff. If true, this could amount to discrimination.

Read the full research report here.