What not to ask applicants

Photography / Flazingo Photos

Photography / Flazingo Photos

Being a receptionist takes skill and experience, yet, to be the new receptionist at Lorna Jane your skills and experience won’t matter unless you measure a size small.

In a recently advertised position, active-wear brand Lorna Jane listed a set of requirements for a receptionist/fit model ‘dream job’ at its head office. The ad listed the necessary skills and experience required for the receptionist part of the position but the only requirements of the fit model part were a set of specific body measurements and patience when required to stand for periods of time. The ad drew all kinds of negative attention for its strange combination of jobs, including suggestions that the company was trying to veil a desire to only hire thin, attractive women.

The ad has since been taken down and so far, it appears that the only damage has been to the brand’s reputation. However, not all employers emerge unscathed from recruitment missteps. The recruitment process is an important part of the overall employment picture and employers should not overlook their obligations when dealing with applicants.

In 2014, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal decided a matter in favour of an applicant who complained of discrimination in the application process. In this decision (Willmott v Woolworths Ltd [2014 QCAT 601]), QCAT held that the questions in a Woolworths online application form amounted to unlawful discrimination under Queensland law.

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race or gender identity, or to ask a person for information on which discrimination can be based.  Mr Willmott, the applicant in this case, had seen a console operator position advertised by Woolworths and decided to apply online. He accessed Woolworths’ online application form but could not complete it because of several mandatory questions he believed were discriminatory. The online application form required him to enter his date of birth, gender and proof of his right to work in Australia. Woolworths put forward a number of arguments to justify the application form, including regulatory and administrative requirements, but QCAT ultimately rejected Woolworths’ arguments and said that all of the answers to the application form questions could have been established after a person was offered employment and should not be asked during the application process.

Mr Willmott was awarded $5000 for humiliation and loss of chance to apply for employment.

Whilst anti-discrimination laws vary from state to state, this case is a good general lesson in how to structure application forms and what questions to save until a decision to offer employment is made. Employers should avoid asking applicants about their age or gender and save questions that might have some employment admin basis until employment is actually offered. Similarly, employers would be wise to avoid any suggestion of discrimination in their job ads too. 

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