Culture catch-all: “Cultural fit” and recruitment

Employers place a significant emphasis on workplace culture, and rightly so – a workplace that holds itself and its employees to a high standard – set against an identified set of values – is likely to garner support and respect from employees, clients and the public.

Employers with a strong sense of culture seek employees who are likeminded, so questions of workplace culture and cultural fit inevitably arise in the recruitment process. When used correctly, assessing a candidate’s cultural fit is a way that employers can quickly identify candidates who will align with the organisation’s values and those who will not.

Of course, values alignment does not mean “sameness” and it is important to be aware of this when assessing candidates for “cultural fit” in the recruitment process. A recent ABC News Media report highlighted how “cultural fit” was being used as a “catch-all” to hide ageism in the recruitment process.

Anti-discrimination legislation makes it unlawful for employers to directly or indirectly discriminate against persons on the basis of a protected attribute, such as age. Employers should be mindful of age discrimination in recruitment practices, including unconscious bias. In fact, employers have found themselves before the courts for such practices.

For example, in Virgin Blue Airlines Pty Ltd v Hopper & Ors [2007] QSC 075, the Queensland Supreme Court upheld an earlier decision that Virgin Blue had directly discriminated against a group of flight attendants on the basis of their age.

The flight attendants were previously employed by Ansett Australia and were aged between 36 to 56 years of age. Virgin Blue’s assessment process included a group stage where the candidates were assessed against behavioural competencies, including “Virgin Flair”. “Virgin Flair” was defined as “a desire to create a memorable, positive experience for customers. The ability to have fun, making it fun for the customer.”

The Tribunal held that the recruitment process resulted in the former Ansett Australia candidates being treated less favourably on the basis of their age and that the assessors were unconsciously discriminating against the candidates on the basis of age. The Tribunal held that in assessing “Virgin Flair” the assessors were identifying with candidates who were the same age and experience as them, or a “fun” person: “That person was I think likely to be a person of the same age, social class and life experience as the assessor.” The Tribunal ordered Virgin Blue to pay damages to the candidates.

The culture of an organisation should reflect the values that the business upholds and expects of employees. While these values are timeless, employees will be diverse so it is important that cultural fit is assessed without regard to any conscious or unconscious discriminatory bias.

 

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.

Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog.

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