Hiring new employees: the legal issues you need to know

This checklist highlights the key legal issues involved in hiring new employees, the legal issues you need to know and what you need to do.

Hiring new employees: before advertising

Make sure all staff involved in hiring new employees have had equal opportunities training (and they continue to receive it while working for your business).

Draw-up the following documents: 
 job description which sets out the title and main purpose of the job, the place of the job holder within your business and the main tasks or responsibilities of the post.
 a person specification which details the experience, know-how and qualifications, skills and abilities necessary for the job in question. The requirements can be split between those that are “essential” for the job and those that are merely “desirable”.
Ensure that none of the requirements in either document discriminates against any groups of employees. In particular, consider whether any requirements for specific qualifications, working hours or times, travel, age ranges or dress are necessary for the job in question.
Consider whether the job needs to be full-time or whether it is open to part-time, home working, flexible working or job sharing. If you specify that the job is full-time, you may need to be able to justify your decision.

Hiring new employees: the advert

  • Decide whether you want the job to be advertised internally, externally or both.
  • Consider using specialist publications, websites and agencies to target different communities, ages and sexes.

Do not make assumptions about the readership of any publication, for example suggesting you are seeking Australian applicants because you are advertising in a publication frequently read by Australians seeking employment in the UK.

  • Think carefully when writing the advert. Protection from discrimination because of a protected characteristic (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation) covers all areas of employment, including job adverts. For example, avoid using language that might imply only someone of a certain age would be suitable (for example, “mature” experienced” or “young”).

Be very careful about the language used in your advert, for example asking for ‘male or strong female’ applicants suggests that the potential employer has a view that women employees are not as strong as male employees. This would be likely to be discriminatory and action could be pursued against the business.

  • Ensure any employees absent from work (including women on maternity leave or those on long-term sick leave) are informed of the vacancy to enable them to apply. Failure to do so could amount to discrimination.

Hiring new employees: the application

  • Using a standard application form when hiring new employees will allow your business to directly compare individual applicants’ answers against the selection criteria more easily and help avoid potential unlawful discrimination claims.
  • Draw up a shortlist using the same criteria used in the job description and person specification. Every applicant should be marked against the same criteria to help avoid any potential unlawful discrimination claims.
  • If your business is making redundancies you must consider applications for suitable vacancies from employees selected for redundancy ahead of external applicants. Women selected for redundancy while on maternity leave are entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy (where one is available) in priority to other potentially redundant employees.

Hiring new employees: the interview

Think when and where the interview should take place. For example:

  • check whether the interview venue has access for disabled candidates;
  • holding an interview during a religious holiday could discriminate against applicants from that particular religion; or
  • candidates with children may require the interview to be conducted at a particular time.

Ideally, all shortlisted candidates should be asked the same or similar questions to allow you to compare their answers and avoid the possibility of a discrimination claim.
You should not ask any questions about the candidates’ personal life unless they are directly relevant to the requirements of the job (for example, it is unacceptable to ask a female candidate whether she plans to have children).
Keep a paper trail throughout the process to demonstrate how your business reached its decision to select the successful candidate. This should include:

  • selection criteria;
  • notes on the short listing process;
  • interview questions;
  • notes of panellists’ assessments of the interviewees.

 It is good practice to provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates if it is requested. A failure to do so could indicate your decision was based on discriminatory grounds.

Hiring new employees: the offer

  •  Make a written offer to the successful candidate.

Consider whether to set a time limit for acceptance and specify that acceptance should be in writing.

  • Your business can make the offer conditional on a range of criteria, provided they are not discriminatory. For example:

–       providing satisfactory references; or
 –       confirmation that the employee is free to work in the UK or has an appropriate work permit or immigration approval to work.

If you need advice in relation to immigration status or visas for prospective employees please contact The Legal Partners.

  • Before making a job offer, make sure the applicant confirms they are not bound by any restrictive covenants from their previous job; otherwise your business could be sued by their former employer. Restrictive covenants are used in employment contracts to protect an employer’s business by restricting the activities of an employee, generally after employment has ended. 

If you make a conditional offer to a candidate do try to confirm as quickly as possible when the conditions have been met and the offer is unconditional. A candidate may understandably not wish to hand in their notice at their current employment until such time as they have received confirmation of an unconditional offer and this may cause delays in their starting to work for you.


Hiring new employees: the contract

The Legal Partners can assist with the drafting of contracts including standard contracts, zero hours contracts and consultant/contractor contracts. Get in touch with us if we can help.


  • Consider whether the contract should be permanent or for a fixed term. If you decide a fixed-term contract is appropriate, you may need to justify why your business reached that decision.
  • Remember that an employee on a fixed-term or part-time contract should not be treated any less favourably than a permanent employee (for example, they should be allowed access to a company bonus scheme or instead receive an equivalent benefit).

Remember also that your business may not be able to dismiss an employee simply because their fixed-term contract has come to an end. The employee may have a claim for unfair dismissal. Unfair dismissal is any dismissal that is not for a fair reason or does not follow the correct procedure.
It is possible to have what are known as zero hours contracts and that can lead to situation where someone is a worker rather than an employee. Workers have some employment rights too but generally not at the same level as employees. If this is something that you would like to explore for your business please contact The Legal Partners for advice.


Hiring new employees: probationary periods

  • Your business can include a probationary period in the contract. This will enable you to assess the employee and vice versa. It also gives you the flexibility to dismiss someone using a shorter notice period of at least one week.
  • Probationary periods typically last between three to six months and can be extended with the consent of the employee at the end of the term (for example, if the employee was sick and your business was unable to adequately assess their performance, you may want to extend the period).

It is worth setting targets during the probationary period to monitor and assess the new employee’s ability in the role and to assist in making the probationary period a success which is in the interests of both the business and the employee.
You should also ensure that any recruitment fees paid to an agency can be reclaimed, possibly on a sliding scale, in the event that the probationary period does not work out.

More information
This Checklist is designed to help you understand the the main legal issues you need to know when hiring new employees.

Please contact us if you need further help:

Richard Mullett – 0208 334 8049 / Richard.Mullett@TheLegalPartners.com

Abigail OpreyAbigail.Oprey@TheLegalPartners.com

This document is not specific legal advice. If you can share your business situation we can advise you on correct policy and procedure and minimise liability.

Contact us

For more information or queries about issues discussed in this article, please contact by email.

To speak directly with or any other of The Legal Partners team of specialist business and HR lawyers based at our Richmond UK office, or our partner lawyers in Singapore, please call +44 203 755 5288

This article explains the main legal issues and common situations to consider. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Please get in contact to discuss your particular issue or queries.

Contact us

For more information or queries about issues discussed in this article, please contact by email.

To speak directly with Richard or any other of The Legal Partners team of specialist business and HR lawyers based at our Richmond UK office, or our partner lawyers in Singapore, please call +44 203 755 5288

This article explains the main legal issues and common situations to consider. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Please get in contact to discuss your particular issue or queries.