Australian active wear designer, Lorna Jane, landed herself in
hot water recently for advertising for a Receptionist/Fit Model who
needed to be a size "small" with specific bust, waist,
hip and height measurements. Talk about discriminatory!
Or was it?
A closer look at the ad shows that the duties of the role were
split between receptionist duties and assisting the design team
with fittings of new garments. Lorna Jane hit back against
allegations of discrimination and size-ism by explaining that the
role of a Fit Model is to ensure that a particular garment is made
to size. Quite simply, to make sure that a size 8 garment fits a
size 8 body, you need a size 8 body to measure it against.
So when will requiring a specific body type, for a specific
role, be discriminatory and when will it not?
The Fair Work Act says that action isn't discriminatory if
it is taken because of the inherent requirements of the particular
position concerned and similar provisions are found in
In this particular case, it was an inherent requirement of the
role of a Fit Model to be a particular size so the action
wasn't discriminatory. If however the position had
called for a size "small" with blonde hair, the
"blonde hair" requirement wouldn't be part of the
"inherent requirements" of the Fit Model role and may
have been discriminatory.
Conversely, if the position was to sample hair dye for blonde
hair, advertising for someone with "blonde hair"
wouldn't be discriminatory, but advertising for someone that
was a size "small" with blonde hair, could be. Just as
advertising for a receptionist (with no Fit Model duties) with
physical specifications might be discriminatory.
However, it's important to bear in mind that making a choice
based on physical features is not in itself discriminatory, except
in Victoria where the law prohibits discrimination on that basis.
In all other jurisdictions, the issue is whether the requirement
for the employee to have a particular appearance is discriminatory
because it excludes older people, or people of a race or sex which
will generally not meet the criteria. Some airlines and TV stations
have got into strife for their apparent preference for
younger-looking female cabin crew and presenters.
So, as a general rule, if you do specify physical requirements
for a role, and especially if you are advertising on that basis,
make sure that the requirements are genuinely requirements for that
role. And be ready for a social media storm.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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