From the Commissioner - Discrimination in recruitment and the onus of proof
Discrimination complaints made in the area of employment are always our highest here at the WA Equal Opportunity Commission, with two thirds of all complaints relating to employment.
This is no surprise as work is important to a person’s self-esteem and ability to achieve their dreams.
It is for this reason I am particularly troubled by people being denied employment due to a characteristic they possess which has little to do with their ability to do the job and more to do with bias, unconscious or otherwise, of the prospective employer.
Although employment is the most common ground, most of the employment complaints are from people already employed.
Only 20 percent of employment complaints are from people seeking employment and these complaints have a very low rate of conciliation.
This indicates that the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 is not working well for people of minority groups looking for a job.
Organisations that represent older people, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and aboriginal people point to the higher rate of unemployment and underemployment in these groups and the difficulty they have with obtaining work.
Currently the onus of proving discrimination is with the complainant. If a complainant cannot show they did not get the job because they were of a certain race, gender, age or because they have a disability, it is going to be hard to achieve a meaningful outcome.
It is very difficult for a complainant going through a recruitment process to obtain this proof as they often do not know the other candidates or the other candidates’ employment history to show they were more qualified and experienced.
This points to a need for respondents to have some responsibility to show that discrimination had not occurred
Bias and unconscious bias on recruitment panels has been well studied. It is well documented that panellists often choose candidates most like themselves, either consciously or otherwise, and this has provoked discussions on gender targets to remedy this phenomenon.
Since people with a disability, of a different ethnic background and older people are also subject to bias in the recruitment process, targets should also be considered for other characteristics such as race, impairment and age.
The evidence of bias, points to the need for selection panels to have greater diversity with a conscious decision to include people with disabilities, older people and people from other minority groups on selection panels.
The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 has provisions for employers to set aside positions for people with these characteristics in order to achieve equality. I would support any measure taken to achieve equality in employment, so the best person for the job gets the job.