“Embarrassed and humiliated”: Job seeker awarded $5000 after being asked for age and gender on Woolies job form

“Embarrassed and humiliated”: Job seeker awarded $5000 after being asked for age and gender on Woolies job form

Jobseeker Steven Willmott said he was “embarrassed and humiliated” and “sickened beyond belief”.

A Queensland job seeker has been awarded $5000 in damages after supermarket giant Woolworths asked him to state his age and gender on a job application, breaching anti-discrimination laws.

The ruling comes as some companies make a move to remove the gender question from applications.

Steven Willmott said he was “embarrassed and humiliated” and “sickened beyond belief” by Woolworths’ disregard for the anti-discrimination laws, after applying for a petrol station job position in 2013, according to the decision.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard the supermarket had advertised for a console operator’s position at its petrol outlet in Beerwah, Queensland, in December 2013.

Willmott, who was unemployed at the time and lives in Beerwah, saw the advertisement on Woolworths’ website and decided to apply for the position via Woolworths’ online application system.

In completing the online application, Willmott was required to provide answers to certain mandatory fields, which included his gender and date of birth, and was also required to provide documentary proof of his right to work in Australia.

In its defence, Woolworths said the information was reasonably required so it could “discharge its obligations as a potential employer and also to comply with Commonwealth legislation”. It also told the court the form has since been changed and such questions are no longer asked.

But QCAT senior member Oliver found questions compelling applicants to provide their date of birth and gender was a contravention of the Anti-Discrimination Act, as was requiring candidates to upload proof of work documents.

“Taking into account the embarrassment, humiliation and some notional amount for the loss of a chance, I assess Mr Willmott’s total compensation at $5000,” said Oliver in the judgment.

Oliver took into account the fact Woolworths had already taken steps to change the online application form.

Anthony Massaro, principal at Russell Kennedy Lawyers, told SmartCompany the lesson to learn from this case is that employers need to be very careful about the questions they ask at the application stage. 

“For example, while it is necessary to know an employee’s date of birth for the calculation of wages and other entitlements, it may not be strictly necessary to have that information at the application stage, or even at interview,” says Massaro.

“When recruiting, employers need to focus on the specific requirements of the job, and ensure that the questions they ask of candidates centre around the ability of the candidates to meet those requirements.”

SmartCompany contacted Woolworths for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.


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