Recently, a job advertisement from a Sydney Optus store was the subject of media attention for its discriminatory language. The job advertisement placed on Seek for a casual retail consultant at its Neutral Bay store stated that candidates who were “Anglo Saxon” and lived near Neutral Bay were preferred.

The advertisement prompted the question – had this Optus store engaged in discriminatory conduct that is considered unlawful under Australia’s anti-discrimination laws?

State and Federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of a particular attribute. These attributes include race, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status or family or carer’s responsibilities. These anti-discrimination laws also prohibit unlawful discrimination in employment against a person on the basis of a protected attribute.

For example, section 15 of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (RD Act) provides that employers cannot:

  • Refuse or fail to employ a person for work which is available and for which the person is qualified;
  • Refuse or fail to offer or afford the same terms and conditions of employment or opportunities for training and promotion; or
  • Dismiss an employee from their employment,

due to that person’s race, colour, or national or ethnic origin.

This also extends to recruitment including job advertisements, where it is unlawful to publish a discriminatory advertisement which treats job seekers less favourably on the basis of a protected attribute. In this case, non-Anglo-Saxon candidates were to be treated less favourably, in that they were not “preferred”.

After being alerted to the advertisement, Optus promptly took it down, stating that it was in breach of Optus’ own standards and commitment to equal opportunity. Optus has since conducted an investigation into the incident and has taken disciplinary action against the persons involved.

Lessons for employers

Employers should be mindful of discrimination in the recruitment process and have an open and equal opportunity recruitment strategy. Job advertisements should be carefully drafted to ensure that they focus on the essential skills of the position and not any irrelevant or subjective factors. By doing so, employers will eliminate discrimination in the recruitment process, get the best person for the position and minimise reputational risks to the business.

 

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