“No mummy’s boys” job advertisement goes viral – but is it discriminatory?

“No mummy’s boys” job advertisement goes viral – but is it discriminatory?

Job advertisements normally set out a description of the kind of person the company wants to fill the vacancy. However, an advert for a Saturday job in a London butcher’s shop has gone viral recently because it sets out the kind of person the proprietor doesn’t want to hire.

The advert, which was placed in the shop’s window, stated: “Saturday Staff Required, No Drama Queens, No Drunks, No Drug Addicts, No Emotional Wrecks, No Mummy’s Boys, No Scruffs, Hard Working Yes”.

The advert was posted on Facebook by a passer-by and gained significant attention on the internet, with some seeing the funny side and others taking offence. The question, then, is whether the ad was discriminatory.

There are a number of ways in which advertisements for jobs can discriminate against applicants. There are a few archetypal examples, such as advertising for a ‘barmaid’ (read,‘men need not apply’) or candidates of a certain age (whether explicitly or by asking for someone ‘vibrant and energetic’). The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the body responsible for enforcing equality laws, received over 100 complaints last year about discriminatory job advertisements, so the problem is not exactly rare.

The advert in the butcher’s window benefits from not specifically relating to any particular protected characteristic. Granted, “no drama queens” could be read as tending against women, but “no mummy’s boys” also rules out certain kinds of men so there does not seem to be a gender preference. Alcoholism and drug abuse are not disabilities in their own right, so there are no issues there. It seems clear that, rather than seeking to discriminate, the proprietor was – in a rather tongue-in-cheek way – describing a personality type he does not want in an applicant. There is nothing improper about that.

The one potential red flag is the mention of “no emotional wrecks”, as it could conceivably discourage those with mental health disabilities, such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder, from applying. That said, simply being put off from applying is not enough to found a discrimination claim (although the EHRC might have something to say to the employer about it).The applicant would have to apply for the role and be rejected in order to argue that they had been discriminated against because of their disability. Even then, the proprietor has plenty of other stated requirements to fall back on to explain the rejection.

The advert’s publicity served the butcher’s shop well – it received a record level of applications and, after giving some candidates trial periods (some of whom were women), hired a suitable candidate.

All in all, a success. Discrimination legislation is not there to stifle employers’ creativity or senses of humour when it comes to advertising their vacancies. As long as employers show a little sensitivity towards the protected characteristics, then they are free to specify that “no mummy’s boys” need apply.

Sarah Owbridge is a paralegal at leading senior executive employment law firm BDBF.