Avoiding Unfair Discrimination when hiring in the UAE

Recently Dubai residents were alerted to a blatant example of unfair discrimination by a local nursery school, who were recruiting a new teacher. The incident was highlighted in the Dubai media and created renewed interest in the topic of unfair discrimination in hiring practices, drawing attention to the organisational risk of prosecution for those who flout the law.

Many employers in the UAE are currently unaware that the UAE is a signatory to several international conventions which specifically outlaw these discriminatory practices. This includes the 1974 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the 2001 ILO Convention on the Prohibition of Discrimination in Employment and Occupations. Both these laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender or faith. National legislation also explicitly outlaws unfair discrimination whether in job advertisements, or elsewhere, according to the Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, Dr. Oman Al Nuaimi.

Unfair discrimination in the hiring process occurs when an employer selects a candidate based on criteria other than the applicant's qualifications. This can take the form of posting job adverts that specify gender, race or ethnicity, but can also extend to any suggestion of discrimination on the basis of nationality. In a recent interview, a representative of the country’s labour ministry said it “condemned in the strongest possible terms” any adverts that exclude someone from potential employment for these reasons and emphasized that

the principle extends to any suggestion of discrimination on the basis of nationality.

“Prejudicial discrimination has no place in the conditions of employment, nor in wider UAE society” Dr. Al Nuaimi, recently told The National Newspaper. “The ministry takes these allegations very seriously.”

The UAE nursery defended their actions by saying that they asked for a specific nationality in their ad because they were focusing on creating a more diverse team of teachers. Their argument points to the reality that recruitment is by nature, a discriminatory process. It is a process designed around a select set of criteria, against which prospective candidates are matched for suitability.

There is nothing wrong with this, provided:

  • The criteria are based on the skills required for the role
  • The recruitment team are sufficiently skilled to spot and address discriminatory processes and behaviours
  • Interview panels are self-aware enough not to be impacted by their own unconscious biases
  • The recruitment process itself is not indirectly discriminatory.

The problem with the nursery’s argument is that one of the criteria they specified (skin colour) has nothing to do with the skills necessary to perform the role. By specifying an irrelevant criterion in their ad, they were in fact engaging in direct, unfair discrimination.

Direct unfair discrimination in the hiring process occurs when an employer overtly chooses to select a candidate based on criteria other than their skills and qualifications. For example, requesting a candidate based on their race, age, sex, maternity/pregnancy, marital status, religion/belief, disability and sexual orientation. So, a job ad which states ‘Pakistani driver required’ would amount to direct unfair race discrimination against candidates from other ethnic groups as it directly and explicitly excludes them from applying. Thankfully, most recruiters find it fairly easy to avoid doing this!

Indirect unfair discrimination


Indirect unfair discrimination is harder to spot. This happens when the employer has a ‘provision, criterion, or practise’ which creates a disadvantage for some applicants, while creating an advantage for others. For example, only offering evening interviews could make it harder for people with childcare responsibilities to apply for the role, which may put more female applicants at a disadvantage.

Another example is using assessment tools which favour people with English as their home language. This process may disadvantage people who don’t have English as their native tongue and who as a result of their different academic and/or cultural background, may not be as comfortable in taking the assessment.

Indirect unfair discrimination can also occur if you don’t make reasonable adjustments required by a ‘person of determination’ or disabled applicant, such as giving someone in a wheel chair reasonable access to the interview location or someone with dyslexia longer to write a written assessment or adjusting the interview room lighting for someone who suffers from epilepsy.

These issues are often overlooked in ‘the standard recruitment process’ and can be much harder for an employer to spot.

Organisational risk

Renewed attention on discrimination in recruitment in the UAE means that organisations are now more aware of their risk of being prosecuted for violations of discrimination laws.

Whilst knowing about the current legislation is a great starting point, there are a number of other actions organisations need to take to ensure they avoid the bad press and risk of litigation from unfair hiring practices:

  • Clearly define the criteria for the role with a focus on skills and qualifications
  • Audit your current hiring processes and close the gaps to ensure they are non-discriminatory and inclusive
  • Upskill your managers and recruiters on non-discriminatory hiring practices

How Diversitas can support you

At Diversitas we have 25 years of experience in helping organisations review and improve their hiring processes and practices in line with legislative requirements and best practices in diversity and inclusion. We work actively with clients in South Africa, Australasia and the Middle East to support the implementation of inclusive and non-discriminatory recruitment practices and processes that conform to the International Labour Organisations (ILO) requirements.

Our Hiring for Diversity programme includes 3 steps:

Hiring for Diversity Programme

1. Recruitment Review

We offer an end to end review of your current hiring process, which highlights the areas where you are at risk and provides you with key recommendations for improvement.

2. Recruitment Process Design & Policy development

We work alongside you to design a fair and equitable hiring process, which meets legislative requirements and provides you with a competitive edge to attract a more diverse and skilled talent pool.

3. Recruitment Training

Our tailored training workshops provide practical skills for hiring managers and recruiters across the end to end hiring life cycle, ensuring that you have the capability in your organisation to implement fair and equitable recruitment practices and attract and hire the best talent.

We're offering you a free consultation so you can implement a fair and equitable recruitment process.


Contact Us Now.

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