Is it age discrimination to reject a job applicant for being overqualified?

Fri 2nd Dec 2016

Can you reject a job applicant because they are overqualified? Philip Sayers highlights the potential pitfall of age discrimination when recruiting new staff.

Now that we are working longer, more of us may find ourselves in the position of applying for jobs for which we may appear to be overqualified. Understandably, businesses often fear an overqualified candidate will leave quickly for a better job. But is it acceptable to reject these applicants outright, or are you at risk of discrimination if you do not give them a fair chance?

A recent case

Many of the people who are overqualified are older people, with many years’ experience behind them. A recent example that caught my attention was a 51-year-old who was rejected from a marketing post with Care UK for being overqualified. When the position went to a younger candidate, the older applicant claimed age discrimination.

Care UK won the case because they could prove that they rejected the applicant because of concerns relating to his experience, which were not connected to his age. While this ruling may reassure employers, it is important to note that you cannot reject an applicant simply for being overqualified. If you are not able to demonstrate a sound reason for turning down such a candidate, you could be accused of age discrimination as older workers are more likely to be in this position.

How to avoid being accused of age discrimination

To avoid this problem, employers should first of all make sure they have a good job description and person specification for every job they advertise. Businesses should then make decisions about a candidate’s suitability for the role based purely on how their application fulfills the criteria laid out in the job description and person specification. They key is not to make any assumptions.

For an applicant with an interest in securing a position for which they may appear overqualified, it might be wise to head off any reservations, by being clear as to the reasons they have for applying for the job and not something more senior.

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers in the Employment team at Coodes Solicitors on 01872 246200 or

Fri 2nd Dec 2016

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