Be Careful What You Ask For….

Willmott v Woolworths Ltd [2014] QCAT 601 (11 November 2014)

….…in Queensland at least. One of Australia’s largest employers has been found to have discriminated against job applicants because of some of the questions its on-line job application form included. The questions were asked in good faith and for sound, practical reasons, but in every case were found to be discriminatory.

The company employs nearly 50,000 people a year out of an applicant pool of approx. 700,000 so processes to streamline that make sense. In particular, the employer argued that it ought to find out beforehand if applicants even had the right to work in Australia before proceeding any further with the process of interview and selection.

In relation to age, the employer pointed out that different pay rates applies to staff dependent on age so the question was directly relevant. Finally, the company was required by federal laws to keep gender statistics so that process commenced in the recruitment phase.

But on every count, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found against the employer and declared the questions caused embarrassment and humiliation to the job applicant who brought the action in the Tribunal. The employer was ordered to pay $5000 in compensation to the complainant for the “humiliation” but also, for “the loss of a chance that he may have been successful in his application”.

The lesson for employers is that even a very large company can fall foul of these laws, especially in Queensland where the law is more onerous and prescriptive than other jurisdictions, by asking what are, in the end, reasonable questions that are very useful for running such a large recruitment program as exists in this situation. The Tribunal demonstrated little interest in the practical problems the company faced as a result of restricting its capacity to filter applicants. Its approach was entirely focussed on the prospective employee.