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Discrimination


Article contributed by special arrangement with the Equal Opportunities Commission

Sex discrimination a crime per se


Maggie heard that one of her previous employers, a health product company, was looking for staff over 16 years of age to distribute promotional leaflets. She immediately told her friend Brenda, whose younger brother David was searching for a summer job along with his friend Johnny. They were aged 16 and 17 respectively, so without thinking twice, they asked Brenda how they should go about approaching the company for an interview.

She recommended that it was best to waste no time and to go straight to the company's office. When they arrived there, Brenda asked if the company was indeed hiring people to distribute leaflets. The man she spoke to confirmed they were and asked if she was interested. When she pointed to David and Johnny, who were standing behind her, and explained that the two of them wanted to apply, the man had an abrupt change of attitude and stated bluntly that the job was not for men.

Disappointed, they went on their way but asked themselves why men could apparently not meet the job requirements. When they later found out from Maggie that the company used to hire male employees for this type of work, they decided to take things further.

Brenda filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) on behalf of her brother. She alleged that, in rejecting his application, the company had discriminated against him on the grounds of sex. The EOC approached the company and explained the allegation, with the result that the two parties agreed to settle the case by way of early conciliation.

The company agreed to issue a letter of apology to David and pay him a small sum in compensation. They also promised to take disciplinary action against the employee concerned and to review the recruitment policy, so as to ensure fair selection of new staff.

The law says that the Sex Discrimination Ordinance applies equally to men and women. Employers should make all recruitment decisions based on consistent selection criteria and employees handling applications and conducting interviews should be trained to avoid acts of discrimination.

Sex discrimination in recruitment is lawful only when a person's sex is a genuine occupational qualification (GOQ). Since the essential nature of the job of distributing leaflets calls for no specific sex, GOQ would not be a valid reason for rejecting someone.

Common examples where sex is a GOQ include:

  • If the job requires a man or woman because of physiology or for authenticity in a dramatic performance – for example, playing the role of a particular sex in a film or play;
  • If a man or a woman is needed to preserve decency or privacy – for example, the requirement for a male attendant in a men's changing room;
  • If the job will involve working or living in a domestic setting and has significant physical or social contact with the person living there – for example, a domestic helper or a companion to an elderly person.

    Sex discrimination in recruitment is lawful only when a person's sex is a genuine occupational qualification (GOQ). Since the essential nature of the job of distributing leaflets calls for no specific sex, GOQ would not be a valid reason for rejecting someone.

    Common examples where sex is a GOQ include:

  • If the job requires a man or woman because of physiology or for authenticity in a dramatic performance – for example, playing the role of a particular sex in a film or play;
  • If a man or a woman is needed to preserve decency or privacy – for example, the requirement for a male attendant in a men's changing room;
  • If the job will involve working or living in a domestic setting and has significant physical or social contact with the person living there – for example, a domestic helper or a companion to an elderly person.

    Q&A on how to avoid sex discrimination
    Q1 I recently interviewed a woman for a job as a quantity surveyor and found her to be the best applicant. However, I am worried about hiring her because she is young and single, which might cause problems in an all-male workplace. What should I do?
    A1 It would be unfair and unlawful not to hire a woman for a position she is most suitable for simply because she is a woman and young and single. Recruitment decisions should be based on a candidate's ability to fulfil the requirements of the job. This is good management practice and makes business sense. If employees understand a company's position on equal opportunities, they are likely to be respect it and show greater loyalty.

    Q2 I run a construction business and recently hired a woman as a trainee engineer. I'm not convinced engineering is women's work, so I've offered her a lower salary than her male counterparts until she proves herself. Is it lawful for the company to do this?
    A2 It is against the law to employ someone on less favourable terms (which includes salary) simply because of their sex. If you have similar concerns in future, you could agree on a probationary period and make ongoing employment dependent on performance. However, such probationary periods should be the same for men and women.

    Q3 If a man and a woman are equally competent for a job and I choose one of them, can the other person complain they have been discriminated aganist?
    A3 It depends on how you make your final decision. Sex discrimination refers to treating someone less favourably on the grounds of sex. As long as you can demonstrate that this was not one of the criteria in the entire recruitment and selection process, there is nothing unlawful. To promote fairness and minimise bias, employers should use consistent criteria for all recruitment decisions. These should be job-related and include education, experience, knowledge, skills and abilities. In this way, each individual can be assessed according to their suitability for a given job and will not be judged by irrelevant considerations.


  • Taken from Career Times 22 July 2005

    (Last review date: 23 August 2013)


    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributor

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