“I have a Muslim-sounding name: Should I change it to John on my CV?”

 
Katee Dias
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One would like to think that we live in a perfect world where all recruitment processes are run lawfully by employers and decision-makers are not influenced by prejudices, but we all know that is far from reality. (Source: Getty)

It is widely reported that employers often reject job applications that are submitted by candidates with Muslim-sounding names, meaning a CV from John may be more likely to be shortlisted for interview than an identical CV from Mohamed.

An investigation by the BBC earlier this year found that a candidate with a Muslim-sounding name is three times less likely to be taken for interview.

When a candidate is subjected to such treatment, they are very likely to have a strong claim for race or religious discrimination. However, the main difficulty with such a claim will usually be in proving the less favourable treatment, particularly when raising such an allegation. How can the candidate know whether an equivalent CV was submitted by a person with a non-Muslim name? And how can they be sure that such a person was shortlisted for interview or whether they were ultimately offered the job?

Not all employers will have a recruitment process that leaves room for such discrimination. At least some will adopt best practice guidance by processing applications and CVs in an anonymised form to ensure that unconscious bias does not impact the shortlisting stage.

People are often not even aware that their mental processes can be unconsciously discriminatory – for example, that they see a Muslim name and draw negative conclusions. A “name-blind” recruitment process helps overcome this.

Safety in numbers

Another safeguard that employers often put into place is having more than one person undertake the sift (all of whom are usually trained in equal opportunities) to try and avoid any personal prejudices from creeping into the selection process. Such steps help to ensure that the early stages of their recruitment process are fair and non-discriminatory and that decisions are made on merit and not based on the preconceptions about the person behind the application.

If the individual is able to successfully bring a claim of race or religious discrimination, the award of compensation can potentially be significant. There is no cap on the amount of damages that an Employment Tribunal can award in a discrimination claim. The level of compensation awarded is based on two main elements: first, the loss of earnings suffered because they were refused the job. And second, an amount to compensate for the hurt they have been caused (known as an award for “injury to feelings”).

Wise ideas

While it may be tempting for candidates to assume a different identity for the purposes of their job application, careful thought should be given as to whether this is appropriate. Their real name will be discovered by the employer in due course (even if that is as late in the day as when the usual right to work in the UK checks are undertaken before their employment commences).

If an employer believes that they have been lied to, the individual runs the risk that the job offer will be withdrawn on the grounds of dishonesty and trust issues. If the change in name to “John” is an official one (for example, via deed poll) or is genuinely being adopted by the individual, there is unlikely to be an issue. On the other hand, if the name is assumed merely for the purposes of the job application process, an employer might well feel deceived.

One would like to think that we live in a perfect world where all recruitment processes are run lawfully by employers and decision-makers are not influenced by prejudices, but we all know that is far from reality. However, pretending to be someone else is not likely to be the answer.

Katee Dias is a senior solicitor in the employment team at Goodman Derrick.

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