You’re Too Sexy for my Workplace!

Is it okay for an employer to fire an employee because He finds HER so attractive that he is concerned he may have an affair with her?

An American court in Iowa says yes it is! Dental nurse, Melissa Nelson was fired by her boss, James Knight because he found her attractive and feared that he might have an affair with her so the safest thing to do to protect both of their marriages was to fire her.

too sexy words

While this is a US case it raises an interesting question as to whether women can be fired because of being too attractive. In Victoria there is a category of protection under discrimination known as physical attributes. It includes appearance, height, weight, body tattoos, body hair etc. If Melissa had lived in Victoria then she would clearly have been protected under this category.

What about the rest of Australia, who do not have this category, would it have been okay to fire her in every state apart from Victoria? Knight argued that he didn’t fire her because she was attractive but because he was afraid he would have an affair with her. The question is, is this gender discrimination?

In this situation gender discrimination is when one person treats another person less favourably than another in the same or similar circumstances because of being female vs male. So the question to ask is Did Mr Knight fire Melissa because she was female (protected category) or because she was attractive (not a protected category) or because he was afraid he would have an affair with her (not a protected category)? Would he have fired an equally attractive male dental assistant? Probably not. It is probably the combination of her being female and attractive and the affair risk that caused him to fire her- in order for it to be unlawful discrimination the gender reason just has to be at least one of the reasons for why she was fired to make it unlawful so it is likely it would be unlawful in Australia.

Warning for employers-

Be careful when you make decisions about attractiveness that are not applicable to men and women as it could be gender discrimination. In Victoria you just can’t make a decision based on attractiveness unless you can show it is an inherent requirement of the person’s job for them to be attractive (such as for a model).