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What can small business learn from the Lorna Jane job ad?

By July 21, 2015November 23rd, 2020Blog
small business recruitment

In 2015, fitness clothing brand Lorna Jane found themselves in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In case you missed it, Lorna Jane posted an advertisement for a Receptionist/Fit Model listing some precise criteria.  These included asking for a woman who had a bust size of 87 to 90cm, waist 70 to 73cm, hips 97 to 100cm and a height of 165cm or taller.

So where did they go wrong?

As an HR Consultant, I see clients all the time that don’t understand the legal requirements around recruitment. There are many complex issues around discrimination.

Discrimination legislation is covered at both the state level and federal level. The state requirements can vary. This legislation applies to both current and prospective employees so is applicable in the recruitment process.

The legislation lists characteristics that you are prohibited from discriminating on. These include age, gender, sexual orientation, race, disability, pregnancy, family responsibilities, religion and some others depending on your state.

You cannot discriminate on any of these grounds when advertising or when you interview potential employees.

There are exemptions if the grounds for discrimination are an inherent requirement of the job. For example, you can discriminate against someone that cannot climb a ladder due to disability if the position requires this as a critical component of the job. Exemptions are also available to industries such as entertainment where they are allowed to look for a specific type of person with a particular look.

Where Lorna Jane came undone was that they advertised a job for a Receptionist/Fit Model. Combining the role blurred the lines, and a large number of the criteria were specific to the reception duties. You cannot advertise for a female with specific physical requirements for a receptionist role but you can for a Fit Model.

This sparked debate about whether they have crossed a legal line but the backlash on social media was so quick and harsh that they removed the ad and changed the requirements, so it was never legally tested. However, the damage to their reputation was done.

So as a small business owner, what should you take from this?

  1. Have clear selection criteria for each position you are recruiting. Criteria should include the experience, skills, knowledge and attributes. These criteria should avoid discriminatory characteristics (such as age or gender) and reflect what is needed to make a person successful in the role.
  2. Understand what you can and cannot say in a job advertisement. If you post an advert that breaches the legislation, you are putting yourself at risk. Use the selection criteria and make sure the language you choose is carefully thought out.
  3. When it comes to interviewing, make sure the questions you ask are not going to breach the legislation. For example, don’t ask someone if they are married, have kids (or when they are planning to have them), who they vote for or how old they are. Stick to questions about their ability to do the job.

If you are unsure of what to write or how to write it, engage a professional to help you. Small business is not saving money if the outcome of their efforts puts their business at risk or results in a PR backlash that damages their brand and reputation.

Need assistance with your recruitment? Why not book an obligation-free HR consultation with Strawberry Seed Consulting to find out how we can assist.

Carli Saw

Author Carli Saw

Carli is a Human Resources professional with more than 20 years of experience across a range of industries and a passion for supporting small business.

More posts by Carli Saw

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