Your business should always strive to promote equality, safety and diversity in the workplace. 

As a business owner, it is vital that you abide by the law and engage your employees on a fair and equal basis. 

Ensuring Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) in your business’ workplace is beneficial for both you and your employees. 

So, how do you support equality in the workplace? Read on to learn how to do so. 

What Is Equal Employment Opportunity?

EEO is the principle that all individuals should have equal opportunity to gain employment.

No individual should be limited in gaining employment or discriminated against on the basis of:  

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Physical or mental disability 
  • Marital status 
  • Family or carer responsibilities 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Religion 
  • Political opinion 
  • Nationality (i.e. If they were born overseas) 
  • Social class 
  • Industrial activities (i.e. If they were a part of a trade union) 

EEO aims to promote equality within the workplace. It further aims to eradicate discrimination, harrassment and bullying within the workplace. 

What Does The Law Say? 

All Australians have the right to EEO. 

Under both federal and state laws, it is prohibited to discriminate against an individual on the basis of race, sex, age, religion and other attributes. The law recognises that prohibition of discrimination enhances, promotes and protects EEO. 

Federal laws that regulate EEO include: 

Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) This law prohibits discimination on the basis of:
  • Race
  • Colour
  • National or ethnic origin
Sex Discriminiation Act 1984 (Cth) This law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of:
  • Sex
  • Marital or relationship status
  • Pregnancy or potential pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Family responsibilities
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Intersex status

This law also prohibits sexual harassment.
Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth)This law prohibits an individual from being treated less favourably on the basis of their age. 
Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of:
  • Physical disability
  • Physical disfigurement
  • Intellectual disability
  • Psychiatric disability
  • Sensory disability
  • Learning disability
  • DisorderIllness or disease that impacts thought processes perception of reality, emotions or judgement
Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth)This law gives the Australian Human Rights Commission the authority to investigate discrimination in employment as it relates to:
  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Political opinion
  • Nationality
  • Class
  • Age
  • Medical record
  • Criminal record
  • Marital or relationship status
  • Impairment
  • Physical, mental, intellectual or psychiatric disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Trade union activity

State laws that regulate EEO include: 

NSWIn New South Wales, the legislation that governs EEO is the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW).

This law renders it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, disability and various other grounds. It further promotes equality of opportunity between all persons.

This law establishes the Anti-Discrimination Board. Any complaints regarding discrimination can be taken to this board for review. 
VICIn Victoria, the legislation that governs EEO is the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (VIC).

This law promotes equal opportunity and protection against discrimination, sexual harrassment and victimisation.

This law also requires organisation to create plans to prevent discrimination from occuring. 
QLDIn Queensland, the legislation that governs EEO is the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (QLD).

This law promotes equality of opportunity for all people, protecting them from unfair discrimination and sexual harrassment. 

This law gives the Queensland Human Rights Commission the power to deal with complaints of discrimination and sexual harrassment.  
SAIn South Australia, the legislation that governs EEO is the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA).

This law prohibits discrimintaion based on sex, race, disability, age, religion and various other grounds and promotes equality of opportunity between all South Australian citizens.

The Commissioner for Equal Opportunity has the power to deal with complaints under this law. 
WAIn Western Australia, the legislation that governs EEO is the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA).

This law promotes equality of opportunity in Western Australia. It also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, family responsibility or family status, race, religious or political conviction, impairment, age, or publication of details on the Fines Enforcement Registrar’s website.

The Commissioner for Equal Opportunity has the power to deal with complaints in relation to discrimination under this law. 
TAS In Tasmania, the legislation that governs EEO is the Anti-Discrmination Act 1998 (TAS).

This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, disability and various other grounds. It facilitates and promotes investigation and inquiry into complaints of discrimination. 

The Anti-Discrimination Commissioner deals with complaints under this law. 
ACT In the Australian Capital Territory, the legislation that governs EEO is the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT).

This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, disability and various other grounds and promotes and protects the right to equality.

The ACT Human Rights Commission deals with complaints under this law. 
NT  In the Northern Territory, the legislation that governs EEO is the Anti-Discrimination Act 1996 (NT). 

This law promotes the right to equal opportunity regardless of a particular attribute relating to race, sex, age, religion, disability and various other attributes. This law prohibits discrimintaion as well as sexual harassment. 

The Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission deals with complaints under this law. 

Overall it is generally prohibited to discriminate against an individual on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, disability and various other grounds. Both state and federal laws aim to promote equality and EEO. Federal laws apply to all businesses in Australia. Where your business is located in Australia will determine which state law applies to your business.

How Can I Be An Equal Opportunity Employer?

The Australian Human Rights Commission has created 10 key steps that employers can take to ensure they are an equal opportunity employer and promote a fair and productive workplace. 

10 key steps that you can take include: 

  1. Developing and implementing a policy on discrimination and harassment in the workplace. (More on this in a bit).
  2. Develop a process for responding to any complaints about discrimination or harassment in the workplace.
  3. Ensure all staff are aware of discrimination and harassment policies that are in place.
  4. Provide training to staff on their rights and responsibilities to ensure that your businesses workplace is free from discrimination and harassment.
  5. Encourage managers and employees in senior positions to model consistent anti-discriminating behaviour in the workplace.
  6. Have clear and consistent contact points for employees to discuss any potential experiences of discrimination and harassment.
  7. Consider establishing policies such as working from home policies to help promote equality for those employees with family and caring responsibilities.
  8. Identify and adapt policies to address possible risk factors for discrimination and harassment.
    1. An example may include facilitating a smooth transition for a staff member returning from extended leave due to parental responsibilities.
  9. Ensure your workplace is accessible to employees with a disability.
  10. Consistently review your workplace for discrimination and harassment.
    1. You may do this by conducting staff surveys or exit interviews with employees who are moving on from your business.

You can implement EEO in the workplace by keeping up to date with the law and endorsing the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 10 key steps. 

Do I Need An Equal Opportunity Policy?

Yes. 

Even if you are not required by law (as you are in Victoria), you should absolutely have an equal opportunity policy. 

An equal opportunity policy should outline how your business is committed to ensuring EEO in the workplace. 

Your business’ equal opportunity policy should generally include: 

  • Your business’ commitment to ensuring EEO 
  • A clear definition of what discrimination, harrassment and bullying is 
  • A clear outline of your business’ no tolerance policy of discrimination, harrassment and bullying in the workplace 
  • A clear process of how complaints are dealt with 
  • Resources available to employees if they experience discrimination, harrassment or bullying in the workplace 
  • Outcomes that may follow from an investigation into a complaint 

Your business’ equal opportunity policy is generally included in your employee handbook and is given to all employees during the onboarding process

You can even make your equal opportunity policy public, just as Qantas has done here

Endorsing equal employment opportunity not only in the workplace but in society at large can significantly contribute to your business’ social responsibility. 

What Other Obligations Do I Have?

Discrimination laws apply at all stages of the recruitment process. This is why it is important to be mindful that you adopt an ‘equal opportunity’ approach in all of your business dealings. 

It is important to consider EEO when: 

1. Constructing Applications or Job Ads 

A job ad should resemble EEO. If your job ad states ‘Hiring female waitress’, this would not be in line with EEO. Rather, your job ad should reflect something more along the lines of ‘Hiring waiting staff.’

An example of a rare exception to the above includes if an organisation is hiring female applicants only to deal with trauma victims of sexual violence. 

2. Conducting Interviews and Tests 

When interviewing or testing an applicant it is vital that you ensure you are adhering to EEO standards. This means only asking questions that are relevant and essential for the specific job as advertised. 

It is generally illegal to ask questions relating to an applicant’s mental health, marital status, whether they are planning on having children and if they have ever made a workers compensation claim. 

As a business owner, it is essential that you ensure all information that you gather and request from an applicant is not used for the purpose of supporting discriminatory practices. 

3. Requesting Criminal Records 

If a police check is required for the candidate to meet the inherent requirements of a job, then a police check is appropriate. However, if the advertised job does not inherently require that an applicant does not have a criminal record, it may be discriminatory to request this information.

Occupations that generally require the disclosure of a criminal record include: 

  • Police force 
  • Any job working with children 
  • Nursing 
  • Correctional services. 

As a business owner, you must continually assess what information is required and what information is not required to avoid any discriminatory practices. 

Need More Help? 

We understand that there is a lot of information you have to get your head around as a business owner. However, it is vital that your business adopts EEO. 

Keeping up to date with your legals can be a tricky task at times. Don’t stress, we’re here to help! If you have any questions, you can reach out to our team for a free, no-obligations chat at team@sprintlaw.com.au or 1800 730 617

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