Discrimination can happen in any area of the business, whether it be during the interviewing process or with current staff. This article aims to help employers and employees understand discrimination, how to identify it, and how to avoid it.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is defined as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex”. On these grounds, a business cannot:

  • Treat an employee unfairly or unequally;
  • Deny an employee opportunities;
  • Treat an employee differently to other employees.

Discrimination is usually based on age, sex, ethnicity, disability, religion or political belief. Examples of discrimination include:

  • Age – Not employing a 55 year old as you have had a 25 year old apply for the position and you believe, without fact or evidence, that the younger person would perform the tasks faster and more efficiently;
  • Sex – Not allocating a female worker a manual task due to them being a female and therefore less able than a male to do the heavy lifting;
  • Ethnicity – Choosing not to employ an applicant of one ethnicity over another, due to the perceived higher ability of one ethnicity over another;
  • Disability – Employing an able-bodied person over a person with a disability;
  • Religion – Choosing not to hire a person based on religious belief;
  • Political belief – Not employing someone due to their outspokenness about their political standing.

How do I avoid discrimination?

Ensure that you understand what discrimination is. This may mean further research, or discussing with your human resources advisor or legal team. Discrimination can appear in job advertisements, so so if you are writing job advertisements, here are some tips to assist you.

Writing an effective job advertisement:

  • Be clear on the skills required for the position and your expectations of the ideal applicant for the role.
  • Avoid words or phrases which may be seen as discriminatory. Having another person read your advertisement is a great idea as they may spot problematic terminology you’ve missed. For example, saying “handyman required” may seem like a reasonable thing to say, but may be seen as discrimination by women. Things to avoid include;
    “Looking for a young..” – age discrimination;
    “Female wanted for administration role…” – sex discrimination, or;
    Writing a job advertisement in a language other than English, in a predominantly English speaking country – could be seen as ethnic discrimination;

Here are a couple of good and bad examples of job advertisements:

Good Example

Our Company currently has a vacancy for a full-time furniture store person [saying ‘store person’ avoids possible sex discrimination]. Applicants must have a keen eye for detail, able to safely lift heavy loads [excellent wording, as it avoids any implication of sex], great customer service and be well presented [again, excellent wording, avoiding implication of sex].

Bad Example

Our Company currently has a vacancy for a full-time furniture store man [this may invoke thoughts of discrimination, such as applications from females will be overlooked. Can be seen as sex discrimination]. Applicants must have a keen eye for detail, brute strength [the term ‘brute’ is generally associated with males, therefore can also be seen as sex discrimination] and full body movement, great customer service and nice looking [‘nice looking’ can be associated with wanting a female for the position, as labelling a male ‘nice looking’ is not common].

I’m at the interview stage, what now?

Unless there is a genuine, occupational qualification required, then you cannot discriminate, or appear to be discriminatory. For example, if you are a Catholic organisation, you are able to ask applicants about their religious beliefs, if being a Catholic is a genuine requirement for the role. If you run a business without such a specific requirement, here are some interview questions to avoid.

  • How old are you?
  • Are you male or female?
  • What’s your religion?
  • Asking about family can be tricky. It’s best not to get too personal. Asking questions such as “do you have any children?” and following up with “where will they be while you’re at work?” can be seen as discrimination if you do not offer them the job
  • What political party do you support?
  • How many sick days did you take last year?
  • What’s your nationality?
  • Are you homosexual/bisexual/transsexual/asexual/heterosexual?
  • Are you sure you’d be able to lift heavy boxes? [directed to a female applicant]
  • How do you think the public would react to you in this role, being the only male? [insinuating that it is a female-only workplace and should the male get the role it would be awkward and un-enjoyable for him]
  • What is your height/weight?
  • Do you have any health issues?

Of course, some of these things you may genuinely wish to know in relation to the role. If so, it is best to rephrase. For example, rather than “do you have any health issues?” try saying “this role requires heavy lifting. Are you able to do this?”.

This article has hopefully increased your understanding of discrimination, what it is and how to avoid it. However, if you require further clarification, please contact your Human Resources or legal advisors. You can also visit the Human Rights Commission website for further information.