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Employment screening requires careful use

The Dominion Post 9 May 2009

Screening is regularly employed when looking for new employees, often on the basis of skills and experience. But some employers take it too far.

Male managers at Gama Aviation have been outed for their vetting criteria for executive aircraft flight attendants. Women who applied for the positions could only get the job if they were "young, slim and single".

According to the company's former director of cabin services, Alexandria Proud, she was not allowed to employ males because they were perceived to be gay, which the owner "would not tolerate". All rather quaint and silly.

Gama Aviation is based in Farnborough, England, and supplies pilots and flight attendants for about 30 privately owned aircraft. It has about 120 staff and also owns several aircraft.

According to Ms Proud, Marwan Khalek, Gama's chief executive, vetted cabin crew candidates. One aircraft owner, Alireza Ittehedeh, insisted on inspecting them himself.

Ms Proud said the successful candidate would be female, physically attractive, aged 18 to 30, single and no larger than size 12. The Employment Tribunal in Southampton, England, is yet to deliver its verdict.

If such a case of constructive dismissal occurred in New Zealand, and Ms Proud resigned from an employer for the reasons she put forward, she would have strong grounds for a successful personal grievance. An employer's instructions to breach anti-discrimination laws would go to the heart of the employment relationship.

Anti-discrimination laws and research are always a hot topic. So are gender pay gaps.

Work in the Labour Department in this area is likely to suffer as a result of the recession. In March 2007, women earned on average 13 per cent less then men, which prompted the previous government to commence research into aligning female intensive roles with male roles involving similar skills to assist women argue for significant pay rises.

The times we are in and the change of government are likely to see that sort of work curtailed.

Interestingly, despite the recession, Britain's Labour Government has just introduced an equalities bill which will encourage large employers to conduct gender pay audits. They are to help narrow the wage divide.

After 2013, the measure will become compulsory for businesses that employ more than 250 staff. Those that fail to comply could be prosecuted.

Women in Britain still earn on average 17 per cent less than men almost 40 years after the first Equity Pay Act and the government hopes to bridge the gap by shaming employers into admitting how unequal their pay structures are. As you might expect, employers are complaining of the extra compliance costs and red tape for companies who are already struggling to cope in the recession.

However, the delay till 2013 marks a compromise to address this.

Ms Proud's case and the new English Bill highlight issues and attitudes that are as real in New Zealand as they are in England. Many employment undercurrents are now masked by the recession.

Peter Cullen is a partner at Cullen - the Employment Law Firm

Email: peter@cullenlaw.co.nz

Cullen - The Employment Law Firm was one of the first eleven law firms in New Zealand approved to provide employment law services to Government and the public sector.

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