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HR in 2017, a year in review

It’s been an been an interesting year in the world of HR. Let’s look at some of the developments and controversies that came out in 2017 around diversity, recruitment, and the law.


In August, the infamous Google memo surfaced, raising questions about the treatment of women in Silicon Valley, and the backlash that can happen when diversity programs and quotas feel forced. When James Damore, the memo’s author, was sacked and promptly sued the company, the ethical questions about free speech emerged (at the time, HRM asked whether he’d have a case for unfair dismissal if he were in Australia).

And he wasn’t the only tech bro in hot water. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to stand down after engaging in questionable business practices while the company was still reeling from the viral blog post of former engineer Susan Fowler, who alleged sexual harassment and despicable negligence on the part of the HR department.

That blog post was a sign of things to come. With alleged sexual harassment at Macquarie Bank, and the Weinstein scandal, the year ended with a sustained focus on workplace violence against women.

On a more positive and practical note, flexible working – which benefits diversity initiatives by allowing a greater variety of life-situations into your workforce – moved firmly into the foreground as the way forward for organisational culture. It will be interesting to hear what companies institute new or improved policies in 2018, with financial services already making it a priority.


Two of the bigger legislative acts affecting employers that came out this year were the changes to the visa system, and the Fair Work Amendment that protects vulnerable workers.

The former stunned many employers, and represented a big shift in how difficult it will be to hire overseas candidates. Interestingly, the protecting vulnerable workers amendment was enacted in response to revelations of how many abuses there were in a different visa system – the Working Holiday Visa programme.

Just as a refresher, the intention of that amendment is to recognise that the new category of “serious contraventions” can capture unlawful conduct which is expressly, tacitly or impliedly authorised by a company. This means that significantly higher penalties can now be imposed on companies and individuals who are involved in repeat instances of underpayment or other unlawful conduct which is perpetuated by policies or practices that are inconsistent with workplace laws.

More recently, we heard about proposed changes to whistleblower laws. Employment law experts Lander and Rogers suggest employers review their existing whistleblower arrangements, or put one in place to strengthen the procedure for people wishing to make protected disclosures.


One of the more interesting terms buzzing around the recruitment sphere this year was “geofencing”. The technology, which digitally fences an area and detects a new person in the space to push advertising their way, has proven to be a successful way to trawl talent for some organisations, such as John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Florida. It’s apparently very effective and quite cheap, but it also raises some ethical concerns, such as excluding candidates based on where they live, their age, race or gender (for more, read our article).

In another new development, Lee Hecht Harrison designed a chatbot to find out a candidate’s skill set, desired job title and preferred location before matching them with job ads. “By automating the process of wading through tonnes of data, individuals will be able to focus on more sophisticated and personalised components of a job search, such as interview preparation with a career coach and networking,” says Ross Heron, managing director at Lee Hecht Harrison, Australia and New Zealand.

Have an HR question? Access our online AHRI:ASSIST resources for HR guidelines, checklists and policy templates on different HR topics or ask your question online. Exclusive to AHRI members.

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