Unlawful dismissal: employee “too young and short”

by Stephanie Zillman02 Apr 2012

A Melbourne employee was sacked by her employee after just two weeks on the job for looking ‘too young’ and being too short – but the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) found the circumstances to be unjust and discriminatory.

The company, a Buxton Sandringham Group real estate agency, employed the 23-year old woman as a personal assistant on a casual basis in June 2010 – but when the company’s directors saw her assisting an auction a few weeks later, a sales consultant was directed to give her the sack and inform her she was too short and looked too young, and as a consequence ‘would not have the presence to effectively negotiate at auctions’.

However the dismissed employee took her complaint against the directors to FWO, and it was found that the employer knowingly broke workplace laws – apparently to save face over not being able to keep her on due to a waning budget.

A Buxton Sandringham director, Mark Earle, told the ombudsman that the real reason the employee was dismissed was not primarily that given by the agent. “[He] obviously felt a little awkward admitting that he had very little work on to justify an assistant and incorrectly used age [and appearance] as factors,” he told the ombudsman.

The two Buxton directors admitted their firm broke workplace laws, and will be forced to make a $1,200 payment for lost earnings as part of an alternative to litigation by FWO. The company also agreed to send memos to all Buxton group offices, acknowledging federal workplace laws were contravened.

Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson said it was important employers were aware of their workplace obligations, and treated their employees fairly. Under the Fair Work Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees on the grounds of, among other things, age.


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