‘IT’S the job or your family – you decide’. This is precisely the tough choice faced by one plucky contestant on popular BBC show The Apprentice, after an infamous boardroom grilling by Sir Alan Sugar.
Now that the show is over for another year, it’s a good time to reflect on the more controversial tactics employed by business tycoon Sir Alan during his ‘interview process’.
In the penultimate show, he quizzed contestant Katie Hopkins about her family arrangements and relocating her family from her Devon home closer to Sir Alan’s business centre in London.
Sir Alan asked the contestant: “Exeter, Devon, two little kids – how’s life going to be if I say to you, ‘Katie, right, you’re down in London. You’ve got to move your family, move your location’. Cos I say to you the same as I said to Kristina, I ain’t opening an office in Exeter.”
The timing of the programme coincided with the Government’s launch of its consultation process on amendments to discrimination law and the creation of a Single Equality Act.
Boss Sugar has since been warned that his outburst and the interview techniques of his ‘trusted’ advisers could be seen as a slur on Hopkins’ ability to do the job due to her personal circumstances.
UK sex discrimination laws prohibit any less favourable treatment being shown towards employees and would-be employees by bosses, due to their sex.
A spokesman of the programme has previously been quoted as denying that the business tycoon’s conduct was sexist and Sir Alan was simply questioning the contestant’s commitment to the job.
Whatever the rationale for the outburst, it seems that the safest way to ensure commitment of a would-be employee is to remain impartial when conducting interviews in terms of the sex, age, race or other defining characteristics of the candidate.
An employer can legitimately examine a candidate’s commitment to a high pressured job provided that the line of questioning does not offend or discriminate in any way. Questions should be objective, asked of all, and be relevant to the job description and specification for the role.
Mistakes are made and problems often occur through sheer ignorance but, with unlimited damages available in discrimination cases, these can be expensive mistakes for any business to make.
Chris Maddock is an associate in the employment group at commercial law firm Robert Muckle LLP.