Make "Employment Status" a Protected Characteristic and Interview Processes More Equitable

Make "Employment Status" a Protected Characteristic and Interview Processes More Equitable

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Aretha D started this petition to Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions (Rt Hon Amber Rudd) and

People still face many prejudices when trying to find work or make an upwardly mobile role transition.

Bias against past or present employment status remains unchallenged, particularly if you are, or have been unemployed, self-employed, or in non-traditional, non-permanent work. In part-time, zero-hours, voluntary or agency work; in locum tenens as doctors, dentists or pharmacists; or having taken a career break or sabbatical, you are vulnerable to prospective employers and colleagues perceiving these working patterns negatively. There is, in fact, a long-running debate, which concerns the consequences of this form of employment. Opponents argue that the absence of provisions and protections, lack of regulation, ambiguous contractual relationships and the status of workers leads to adverse outcomes, and supporters arguing that these are outweighed by the benefits of greater autonomy, increased earning potential, flexibility, and more control over work-life balance.

The latter do not stand up under close examination, because prejudicial attitudes about status can extend to damaging character judgments, accusations of complacence and 'unrealistic' expectations of career progression, and the dismissal of valid and valuable job-related contributions or education and training you may have undertaken or delivered during that working period. This is discriminatory practice and goes against meritocratic equal opportunity, putting you at a disadvantage relative to those in permanent work.

The Equality Act 2010 and other equality and diversity legislation and guidance legally protect people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society based on nine existing protected characteristics: age, being or becoming a transsexual person, being married or in a civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, disability, race (including colour, ethnic origin or nationality) and sexual orientation.

But, legislation needs to catch up to the rate of change in the modern workplace. 2017's Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices was commissioned by the British government and concluded with a Seven-Point Plan, including a call for a change in the law! The Review acknowledges that non-traditional working patterns are more accessible as a permanent career choice, but doesn't quite extend the thought to the choice as a temporary alternative to unemployment or in response to personal or family circumstances, and economic or job market conditions. Even as more people switch career paths more frequently, jobs-for-life become rarer, more people access extended leave (including maternity) and sabbaticals, retirees find themselves back in work and the government encourage people to return to careers after time away, this working group is still a minority, whose rights are under-represented. Periods of non-permanent, non-full-time work still carry the stigma of 'otherness', of the person and the quality of experienced gained being perceived as somehow inferior to that gained in permanent work.

The Department for Work and Pensions should consider steps to abolish the stigma and ensure that patterns of work do not reflect negatively on quality of the work or worker.

Under-appreciating whole periods of your working life dismisses the fact that, in many cases, you could not be appointed into a temporary position without the mandatory education, training and experience to do it, or maintaining the same professional or work-related excellence expected of a permanent employee! And you may have achieved it despite the limitations that non-permanent work imposes on job-related achievements and the reduced opportunities of progress that employees place on the role! Experience gained and consolidated in short-term, temporary or 'gig' work is no less valuable than that gained in permanent roles. After all, any type of work experience is recognised and praised when presented by teenagers. It should be no different for adults!

Point 5 of the Taylor Review Plan agrees: "It is vital to individuals and the health of our economy that everyone feels they have realistically attainable ways to strengthen their future work prospects and that they can, from the beginning
to the end of their working life, record and enhance the capabilities developed in formal and informal learning and in on the job and off the job activities."

Recognition via anti-discriminatory legislation would go some way to rectify that.

Difficulty entering the permanent job market from the temporary workplace often means that individuals can become trapped, can render you effectively 'unemployable' in some fields, and can feed directly in to the barriers to social mobility. Yet, almost overwhelmingly, taking on temporary work it is still often viewed as an easy choice with little or no consequences!

The disadvantage extends across the widest possible skills range. For example, in locum tenens, you need, at the very least, a medical, dentistry or clinical pharmacology degree, post-graduate specialisation and mandatory continuing professional development. According to the GMC General Medical Council's 2017 The State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK, approximately 18% (nearly 43, 500 of the 236, 732 UK doctors wih a license to practice) are locums - an increase from 13% (just under 31, 500 of 232,000) in 2013. That equates to aroung 3,500 locum doctors working in hospitals and 17,000 locum general practitioners on on average, on any given day! Yet, according to Harrison Clark Rickerbys Solicitors, 'locum' has no legal definition!

Most have attended a UK medical school or passed the same medical degree overseas, trained in the NHS, gained post-graduate specialist exams, are entered in the GMC specilaist register and enjoy the Fellowship or Membership of a Royal College or other Learned Body. They state in their 2018 What Our Data Tells Us About Locums working paper, that, "a growing proportion of doctors are choosing to undertake work as locums." Can it be assumed to be a simple choice, the commonest locum demographics include the 30-39 age group, the average consultant/senior appointment age range or ultimate career prize. And when studies show that you most likely possess the other protected characteristics of female gender and non-white appearance or non-British origin, the commonest characteristics highlighted as barriers to permanent work at senior or consultant level in the 2015 NHS WomeN iN LeaderSHip, the 2017 Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) reports and 20 years of news headlines, like the Guardian's How much progress is the NHS making on workforce diversity?

Employment status and ethnicity demographics are confirmed in the GMC's 2015 Analysis of cases resulting in doctors being erased or suspended from the medical register, which states that, "Almost a quarter of all cases feature locum doctors (23%)," whilst their behaviours are similar to that of non-locums. But, they are more exposed, less suppcrted. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England both abdicate responsibility for locums, DHSC recently stating, "... the employment of locums is a matter for individual NHS organisations to determine."

Without the aegis of the DHSC or NHS England recognising and taking responsibility for the welfare of locums, you can only rely on the limited help of the respective trade unions (like the BMA for doctors) and defence unions, on the Agency who wish to avoid liabilities and control what work you are offered, or the NHS Trust processes who use locum expertise whilst viewing them as an inferior other and allowing them little purchase when it comes to job develoment or basic employment rights. This is the tone set in the 2013 NHS Guidance on the appointment and employment of NHS locum doctors. What positive guidance is set is often only loosely applied by Trusts and their appointment committees, can be countered by the use of loopholes, and rarely ensure that locums are fully aware of their rights by e.g making a copy of the document available as part of the job application pack.

A recent ONS Labour Force Survey estimates that there are currently around 865, 000 agency workers currently in the UK, and is expected to rise to 1m by 2020!

All temporary workers, whether via an agency or on short-term, renewable contract, are already operating under the heightened stress of the precariat, facing the same heightened scrutiny of every decision as a Secretary of State.

Just like a Secretary of State, temporary workers must find a happy medium between working practices they have honed from experience, which can introduce the positivity of diversity to the job at hand, and how things are done at the employment site. Confidence in your competence is already low, when doing or intending to do something differently risks negative judgments. Any actual mistake risks your professional registration and means to work. Unlike a Secretary of State, temporary workers must remain employable within the same job market. They don't have the luxury of spring-boarding into more prestigious jobs, like editor of a popular newspaper or VP of communications for a global brand. Point 6 of The Taylor Review Seven-Point Plan acknowledges that: "The shape and content of work and individual health and well-being are strongly related. For the benefit for firms, workers and the public interest we need to develop a more proactive approach to workplace health," and continues in Point 7 that temporary workers should not be: "stuck at the living wage minimum or facing insecurity but can progress in their current and future work."

To make interview processes more equitable, make employment status a protected characteristic, to ensure that all work experience and job-related contributions are recognised as valid and valuable, and to recognise that temporary workers must be afforded the same job opportunities and consideration as people applying from permanent posts should they fulfill the published job description. This  is a simple and logical extension to Point 1a of the Taylor Review's Seven-Point Plan: "The same basic principles is a apply to all forms of employment in the British economy – there should be a fair balance of rights and responsibilities, everyone should have a baseline of protection and there should be routes to enable progression at work." Point 3 supports a change law to protect so-called gig economy workers: "to provide additional protections for this group and stronger incentives for firms to treat them fairly."

Abolish discriminatory terms such as "temp" and "locum" and prohibit short-listing, interview and appointment panels from inquiring about the nature of employment past and present in this context. Pre-judgments on why a candidate has been unsuccessful in permanent job applications introduce conscious or unconscious bias about present suitability, particularly when questions on training, experience and disciplinary issues remain mandatory enquiries requiring probity and truthful accounting. This should be enough to reassure any prospective employee or colleagues.

Prohibit short-listing, interview and appointment panels from branding a candidate 'over-qualified'. Experience is exerience. How a person chooses to apply their experiences is best explained by the candidate making an acount of their suitability for the role, and may reveal unique ways of utilising experience in new settings! Presumption by an external source introduces pre-judgment and negative conscious or unconscious bias. Towards good management and strong employment
relations within the organisation, Point 4 of the Taylor Review Seven-Point Plan acknowledges that: "it is important that companies are seen to take good work seriously and are open about their practices and that all workers are able to be engaged and heard."

Prohibit pre-shortlisting and pre-interview site visits and conversations with panellists or prospective colleagues with access to panellists. Sold to candidates as providing an opportunity to somehow gain an edge over the competition, a whole industry has grown up around so-called 'interview preparation', particularly for doctors! However, such visits consciously or unconsciously pesent prospective employees with the chance to pre-judge candidates based on existing protected characteristics, to confer verbally and introduce bias into the interview process based on hearsay, and to ensure that discriminatory reasons for or against appointment are carefully not written down at the time of short-listing or interview.

Prohibit the success or failure of a candidate being disproportionately judged by whether they will be "a good fit for the team". Whilst it can be relevant, such attributes are difficult to assess objectively and can be another obvious avenue for conscious or unconscious subversion toward discrimination. Such judgments are almost always wrong, and result in almost the polar opposite of diversity and inclusion.

Make these changes to support meritocratic job appointments and career progression for all!

Twitter: Employment Status Equality @EqualityStatus

Image sourced from Gowling WLG

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