Job Board Advertisers
Job board advertisers are breaking the rules.
A reader sent the following article to us.
Contract Job Advertisements
On various websites recently, there have been a few articles in which readers indicate that they are sceptical about claims made in some recent job advertisements. There’s also been complaints about the way that recruiters have treated those people seeking positions.
So I decided to find out exactly what recruiters can and cannot legally do. That’s under the current code of practice relating to advertising in general and employment in particular. The results of my research make very interesting reading.
I am not a lawyer, personnel officer or recruiter. Others may interpret the code differently. They may have a far greater knowledge of employment and advertising law and codes of conduct than myself.
The Advertising Standards Authority is the regulatory body that covers public advertising. It has a web site with a fully searchable database of rulings it has made. This is updated on a weekly basis.
A separate group called CAP (the Committee of Advertising Practice), publish and maintain a document called “The British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing”. It determines the self regulatory nature of British Advertising. It is administered by the ASA.
The two organisations are independent of government, commercial and the advertising and marketing industry. However, they do maintain quite close links with the Office of Fair Trading and other official regulatory bodies.
The 11th edition of the code that came into practice on 4th March 2003 is the latest at the time of writing, and it is this that I shall be using for this document. Any clause numbers mentioned in this article refer to that document.
Job Board Advertisers – General Principles
Section 1.1 details the areas of media that this code of conduct covers. 1.2 details the areas that the code excludes. The code covers adverts in newspapers, magazines, mailings, text transmissions, emails and faxes. This covers all likely media types for recruitment.
Any advertising material in that media is defined as a “marketing communication” which becomes essential for interpreting clauses in the rest of the document.
The code does not cover television or radio broadcasting. However, this doesn’t seem to be a problem from the IT point of view. I have never seen an IT employment advertisement on either of these media types.
Section 1.2h states that “private correspondence” is exempt from the code. I am not sure if an automated mailout, as performed by job sites, would be classified as private correspondence.
Both Sides of Argument
Looking at both sides of the argument:
Each mailing generates by combining the job database with the user preferences. They transmit the resulting message to one and only one email address.
Thus you could describe it as private.
However, to contradict this, the content of the message is not private. Thy send out the job postings to other subscribers with similar keywords in their profile. They are often available to view from a web site as well. The email certainly does not contain confidential or privileged information.
In the event of two people having exactly the same keyword search set up, they would receive exactly the same email given an identical underlying database The only difference is the address to which they transmit it.
While this is unlikely, it is possible.
Section 2 of the code covers the general rules relating to the code.
It states that marketing communications should be legal, decent, honest and truthful (section 2.1). They must prepare it with a sense of responsibility both for the consumer and to society.
Thye define a consumer as anybody reading or acting on the advertisements.
Although section 52, as defined below, specifically covers job board advertisers, we will cover it in more detail later. Earlier sections include relevant comments and are worth mentioning, even though section 52 includes points which back these up to some extent.
Clause 3.1 requires that the advertiser has evidence to back up any direct and implied claims made within the marketing communication prior to publication. ASA or CAP can request this should the case come to court.
Taking these two points together, I would interpret this as ads for non existent positions are outlawed, period. So job board advertisers are breaking the rules.
Changing Contract Job Spec
Moreover, the requirement to be able to substantiate any claims made means that changing the specification for a position to give, say inflated salaries, or promise extra benefits is also not permitted.
To my mind it also covers speculative postings from job board advertisers in order to get people onto their books where there is no real post. It also covers advertising for a possible future position which has no approval yet.
Of course, it still permits genuine positions where multiple agencies are supplying candidates for the same job are under this.
The next section relevant to us is section 52, which they call “Employment Opportunities”. This, of course is where you would expect the majority of clauses of interest relate in the context of this article. However, it is a very small section. My comments are after each section.
Clause 52.2 specifically states that communications must relate to genuine positions and makes it clear that no money must change hands to get further information. The details of the position, including any salary details must be accurate.
This immediately outlaws those jobs which they advertise at £12 per year, or £25,000 per hour of course, as well as spicing up the specification.
Full Name and Contact Details
Clause 52.3 states that an employment agency must give its full name and contact details. It must disclose the fact that it is an agency if its name doesn’t make that clear. For example if it was “XYZ Recruitment” or “ABC Employment.”
This clause outlaws those adverts that give a single use response email address for a per vacancy basis. It outlaws those that ask to contact a particular team of people. It outlaws those that say “Please email; do not telephone” and don’t publish a telephone number.
Some of course may consider any that don’t publish a fax number or postal address also guilty under this section. However, in today’s job market I think it unlikely that professionals would fax or post CV’s on a routine basis. On a rare occasion when you would need to, you would be able to get it from a contact at the agency themselves.
The remainder of section 52 relates to mail order businesses and use of data acquired as a result thereof, which is not relevant to us.
Code of Conduct
As mentioned above, the advertising industry is self regulated, so the code of conduct does not have the force of law. Despite this, it is recognised by the Government and Office of Fair Trading. Both during and after enquiries, the consumer’s identity is anonymous wherever possible, unless (s)he indicates otherwise.
Sections 61.01 through 61.03 cover sanctions against those found to break it. They range from withdrawing or amending the advertisement and forcing pre vetting on a particular company (where future publications must be approved by a vetting panel prior to submission for publication).
Section 61.10 points out that negative publicity may result as an outcome of an enquiry which would adversely affect the company’s business. An example is a refusal to accept advertisements for publication or withdrawal of bulk mail discounts.
Although individual complaints are normally dealt with in a short timeframe, any disputes which are outside the remit of the ASA and CAP will be dealt with by the courts. Related advertising disputes will not be investigated until after completion of any related cases, including appeals. This is so that any rulings made can be taken into consideration.
I have deliberately not gone into the details of any relevant rulings here because they can change so fast as regards job board advertisers. Using the web addresses and database search systems anybody can look them up if interested.
Job Board Advertisers Summary
Overall, the self regulatory framework provides a basis for advertisers to go about their business without imposing too much bureaucracy on the advertisers. Despite not having the force of law, it does have teeth. Penalties could prove damaging to any commercial organisation found to be breaching the rules.
In terms of consumer protection, it doesn’t cover every suspected practice that ITContractor readers have mentioned, but a lot are. It is a good system and has proven to work now for over 40 years in its current state. It works both for advertisers and consumers.