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Not Allowed to Apply for Other Jobs: Is this Legal?

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 7 Aug 2021 | comments*Discuss
Job Position Banned Employer Internal


I'm a civil servant and we have been prevented from applying for internal vacancies that would give us more pay and better conditions because our department says it cannot afford to release us.

Is this legal? What, if anything, can we do? Some people had already applied before the ban but we have been told they will not be released.

(A.B, 27 May 2009)


Hello and thank you for your question. Without wishing to sound entirely unhelpful, I have to say that this is a very grey area.

While your employer banning you from applying for internal vacancies does not seem very fair, it does not seem 'illegal' either. However, that's not to say that it is 'legal', rather than this particular situation has yet to have a Tribunal to challenge its fairness.

Being told that you are 'banned' from applying, in its very nature, seems unfair. Being 'banned' from anything has a 'human rights' aspect to it that is often able to be challenged. So, really, it is unlikely that you are actually 'banned' from applying for internal vacancies on a legal level, rather that your employer does not want the hassle or cost of recruiting someone to take your place.

This would suggest that you are perfectly entitled to apply for the other positions – especially as not applying could be seen as allowing yourself to restrict your career in some ways – so if you feel you match the person specification and the job description, I would go right ahead and apply, taking your career bull by the horns.

That said, I would imagine that applying for the position and thus 'defying' whoever told you that you were banned from doing so, you are rather putting yourself into the fire. On a very basic level, you've been told not to do something and you've gone and done it! So while you are entitled to apply for the job, and are quite likely to be totally suited to the job (you know the company, the company culture, the role, the clients etc, etc) how much would you really want it?

You could battle through the recruitment process and, if you're lucky, get the new job. But you'll probably really irritate your employers, that's if they even give you a fair try. Don't forget that the majority of internal vacancies are offered simply for administrative purposes - they're often already filled, but union agreements and employment law mean that they have to be advertised.

In reality, your employers are telling you not to apply because they've already got someone for the job, so not only will you not get it anyway, but your application will give them an extra task to deal with.

I appreciate that doesn't sound very positive. It's possible that this is just the situation with this particular vacancy. It's worth saying to your boss or line manager that you feel ready for a new challenge and that you're keen to hear about new internal vacancies that you can apply for. Then at least they'll know that you're unlikely to sit still in the same job forever, even if it does save them some paperwork!

Good luck.

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