Equity warns advertisers over inappropriate casting questions

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Actors attending auditions for television commercials are being asked increasingly “inappropriate and intrusive” questions that have no bearing on their ability to do the job, Equity has warned.

The union is now consulting with the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, agents and casting directors on how to resolve the issue, which came to light after Equity received a series of complaints from members about what they were being asked at auditions. These included questions about marital status and criminal convictions, which the union has argued should have no relevance to a performer’s ability to act a role and has claimed could be in breach of equality laws.

Many of the questions asked are on forms that performers complete at initial auditions. These are often not the IPA/Equity-agreed artist’s declaration form, which was designed to “limit the proliferation of intrusive information”.

Equity vice president Jean Rogers told The Stage that some forms used are becoming “more complex and intrusive”.

“Recently I have been told of some alarming questions that may well breach equalities law, and certainly demean the dignity and basic human rights of the artist,” she said.

Rogers said the official IPA/Equity form could be downloaded and taken to an audition, and added that its proper use would “ensure the protection of both artists and employers”.

“It asks you the kind of things that the IPA agrees should be sufficient for what any potential employer should need. It acts as a kind of standard,” she said.

“The aim is to have the forms available at all auditions in the future. The time for more probing questions is when you are in with a very good chance and are shortlisted, not when you first audition.”

Rogers also expressed concern about verbal questioning that takes place at auditions, which are often filmed. She said that this can put performers in a “vulnerable and difficult situation”.

Employment lawyer Jamie Feldman, from Harbottle and Lewis LLP, said that while asking a question such as “are you married?” would not be a breach of the Equality Act 2010, it would not be “advisable to do so given the potential discriminatory problems that may arise from any answer”.

For example, he said that if an actor’s answer revealed something about them – such as their sexuality – and an employer then used that answer to refuse the performer a job, “the question would arise as to whether the actor had been discriminated against because of the disclosure of that protected characteristic”. It would then fall to the employer to show that this was not the real reason for not employing the performer.

In respect of asking “do you have a criminal conviction?”, Feldman added: “There are only certain excepted roles and professions as to when a spent criminal conviction may be used as a reason for not employing someone – and an actor is not one of those.

“With regard to an unspent conviction, it would then be a matter for the employer to decide if they wanted to employ that person or not.”

Equity commercials organiser Tim Gale said the form drawn up with the IPA was ideal, but added that the union was working with interested parties to ensure a suitable equality procedure exists in the sector.