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Discrimination free recruitment – how it can be done


A sound recruitment and selection process will enable employers to attract the widest pool of applicants and provide the greatest opportunity to select the most suitable people for any required roles within their organisation.

While appointing the best applicant for a role can help to create a competitive advantage for any organisation, getting it wrong can result in significant disruption, reduced productivity and long term costs.

As a result, irrespective of the role being recruited, it is essential that the recruitment process undertaken by any employer is based on merit and is free from discrimination.

Woolworths found this out the hard way when it was found guilty of breaching Queensland’s anti-discrimination laws because of its online application form. Mandatory fields within the application form meant that applicants could not progress with or submit their application unless they provided both their age and gender.

While Woolworths accepted that these mandatory fields on the application form could be seen as discriminatory, it argued that:

  • the applicant’s age was a necessary requirement because some positions could only be performed by people over the age of 18; and
  • it required the applicant’s gender to comply with the Commonwealth’s workplace gender reporting requirements.

Both of these arguments were rejected and the Court held that the applicant’s age and gender were not reasonably required. Rather than asking the applicant’s specific age, the applicants could have simply been asked to confirm whether they were at least 18 years old. As a result, Woolworths was ordered to pay one jobseeker $5000 in damages.

Potential discrimination in recruitment is not limited to obvious requests for a person’s age or gender. It can be more inadvertent. For example, should a position advertisement require points such as the following:

  • recent graduate required”,
  • “you must be a native Chinese speaker”, or
  • “salesman wanted to join a young, energetic team”

these could all be viewed as discriminatory and be in breach of anti-discrimination laws.

Below we outline a number of steps which can be taken to ensure that your recruitment process is free from discrimination:

  • Develop a policy to help ensure all staff understand the requirements and legal obligations of the organisation in relation to discrimination.
  • Train your staff in the policy. This is particularly important for staff members who will be involved in recruitment.
  • Determine the inherent requirements of the role, e.g. the necessary tasks that will be performed.
  • Determine the selection criteria and distinguish between essential and desirable criteria.
  • Prepare a job advertisement that addresses only the inherent role requirements and key selection criteria. Ensure that the ad is free from potentially discriminatory terms or references.
  • If an application form is used, avoid asking for personal information (e.g. date of birth), unless it is an inherent requirement of the role.
  • Select applicants to interview based on skills, abilities, qualifications and experience relevant to the role.
  • Create an interview plan of questions that you will ask during interviews and ensure that you avoid references to personal characteristics.
  • Only contact referees specified and authorised by the applicant, and only ask questions that relate to the selection criteria.
  • Select the successful applicant on the basis that they best meet the key criteria and are the best person for the job. Record the reasons for your decision.
  • Offer similar terms and conditions of employment for applicants of similar qualifications and experience undertaking the same role.

Should you require assistance with any stage of the recruitment and selection process, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our HR advisory team on 1300 720 004 or via email at [email protected]

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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