“Using a recruitment agency which specialises in the supply of attractive staff could be discriminatory”, warn lawyers. Of course they do.
“Lookist” internet dating site beautifulpeople.com is launching a recruitment agency as a spin-off, according to the Telegraph online this week. Employers wanting to fish in this particular pool, professionally-speaking, can advertise on the beautifulpeople site and any interested paragons of physical virtue can then apply direct. This is not a talent agency in the modelling sense, but while looks aren’t everything, the agency’s MD sees them as a distinct asset across a whole range of businesses: “Honest employers will tell you that it pays to hire good looking staff. Attractive people tend to make a better first impression on clients, win more business and earn more”, he said before adding a little defensively “This isn’t an invitation for crack-pots to come and ogle our beautiful members”, a phrase he would probably have revisited given a little time for reflection.
The Telegraph says that actual or prospective users of the service include a US real estate agent (why is that not a surprise?), bridal gown designers and “working mother Olivia Kinnard”, who intends to use the site to find a nanny. “I’m sure I’m not the first parent to think that they need a slim and fit nanny”, she says (well, the first mother, possibly). “The truth is, my toddler Kit responds better to good looking people”. Kit, 16, was not available for comment.
But is the fact (for it has been verified by studies more than once) that good looking people tend to do better in business a defence to discrimination claims? And discrimination on the grounds of what? If beautifulpeople’s 750,000 members are largely under 35, white and heterosexual, for example, there are your answers. In addition, while it is quite lawful to discriminate against the merely very plain, severe facial disfigurement can constitute a protected disability (unless self-inflicted, so sayonara to wannabe recruits with tattoos or metalwork through ears, nose or eyebrows). You cannot justify direct discrimination on race or gender grounds and so even against the background of those studies it is hard to see most Employment Tribunals attaching much credence to blanket assertions like this one from the US realtor: “It’s no secret that attractive agents have an advantage …. in a highly competitive market, every advantage counts”.
So be careful – the line between hard-nosed business sense and an alleged side-line in casual lechery is a thin one. If you do recruit with an eye to outward appearance then so be it, but remember that you will be very much on the back foot in defending such a decision if you are not to make your business appear just unutterably shallow.