Equal employment opportunity is an important concept for all employers, employees, and job applicants. Employers need to follow equal employment opportunity laws at every stage of the employee lifecycle. It is unfair and unlawful behaviour to discriminate against people for personal characteristics like race, gender or religion when you hire, promote or exit a person from your business. Every business should consider EEO training for their employees.

  • 13% experienced discrimination or sexual harassment in the Australian workplace
  • 2,000 complaints each year in relation to discrimination or sexual harassment, as per the Australian Human Rights Commission

There are four kinds of unfair and unlawful behaviour that are important for equal employment opportunity:

  • Discrimination, including both direct and indirect discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Unlawful adverse action
  • Victimisation

These kinds of unfair and unlawful behaviour are based on personal attributes that are protected by law and are often referred to as protected attributes.

Personal attributes that are protected by law include:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital or relationship status
  • Parental or career status
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Religion
  • Political opinion

In Australia, Federal and State/Territory laws protect the rights of individuals and ensure safe workplaces and fair and equitable treatment. The laws apply to all workplaces in Australia, regardless of their size. They apply to protect employees, contractors, volunteers, customers and visitors.

Relevant legislation includes:

  • Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986
  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999
  • Fair Work Act 2009
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984
  • Work Health and Safety Act 2011
  • Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012

EEO training applies for the full employee lifecycle

A common mistake made by far too many businesses is to think about equal employment opportunity (EEO) only once a person has started their first day at work. However, it is important that we treat people fairly and with respect from the time we place an advertisement for a new position and throughout the recruitment process. Our communication, both external and internal, should promote a workplace culture where equal employment opportunity is afforded to everyone, including employees, contractors, volunteers, customers, and visitors.

To encourage cultural diversity and other equal employment opportunity initiatives such as workplace gender and diversity, there are a number of incentive schemes and funding available for businesses in Australia. You can use Grants & Assistance to find the most relevant incentives and support for your business. The AHRC also provides best practice guidelines for recruitment and selection to ensure a fair, unbiased and discrimination-free way to select and onboard staff.

You are responsible for any unfair and unlawful behaviour in the workplace.

Irrespective of whether you operate your business in Australia or abroad, local laws generally hold an employer responsible for unfair and unlawful behaviour in the workplace. As a rule of thumb, all employers should consider what is right from the perspective of all reasonable steps. By all reasonable steps, we are talking about the responsibility of an employer to provide training and have policies in place to make it clear what they expect when it comes to appropriate behaviour and equal employment opportunity in the workplace. Most businesses have one or the other, that is, training or policies, but very few have both.

Unfortunately, if an incident of unfair or unlawful behaviour happens in your workplace and you can not demonstrate that you have both training and policies in place and that you provide this on a regular basis, then you can be held legally liable for the unfair and unlawful behaviour of those who you are responsible for. This is referred to as legal liability or vicarious liability and is often not thought about until it is too late. So in the case of equal employment opportunity in the workplace, it is best to have policies in place that address discrimination, sexual harassment, unlawful adverse action and victimisation. You will also want to have adequate EEO training available at the time of induction and ensure that it is provided on a regular basis.

The most simple, easy and reliable way to train your staff is via legally compliant online Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) courses. Equal employment opportunity courses online should be a part of your induction process, along with other important topics such as safety, privacy, bullying and harassment. Combined with the rollout of up-to-date workplace policies and some further induction conversations about your expectations for creating a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace, you will be able to demonstrate that all reasonable steps have been taken.

Review EEO policies

In addition to having appropriate training in place for equal employment opportunity and keeping up to date with local laws, it is also necessary to review and update your workplace policies and procedures. Policy builders such as the one available from the Sentrient online workplace compliance system can help you to update, enrol staff and report the completion of all your policies in one place.

The AHRC has a range of fact sheets to guide you to develop effective policies and best workplace practice guidelines. The Fair Work Ombudsman also provides education and assistance for employees and employers in preventing discrimination in the workplace.

Why are EEO training, policies and procedures so important?

The reason we educate our staff and have clear policies in place is to help people identify, report and resolve issues of inappropriate behaviour. The absence of such training and policies makes it very challenging to deal with inappropriate behaviour at work. Failure to report means that such behaviours can escalate and get out of control before management or HR knows about it. Then, once a complaint is raised or, in some cases, a claim is made against your organisation, it becomes messy really quickly.

By establishing clear guidelines on what to do if there is an issue and providing further training and guidelines to your supervisors and managers on how to deal with a complaint, you are setting yourself up to deal with any issues that may arise. When your people understand that such processes are in place, it also shows them that you want people to feel safe at work and to be treated fairly and with respect. This is sometimes referred to as dignity at work.

What does a reliable workplace relations and safety program look like?

If you are serious about creating a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace, then you will ensure that you have appropriate training and policies in place for safety, privacy, bullying, harassment and discrimination. This increases the likelihood of our people being able to identify, report and resolve such issues in a respectful manner. Furthermore, if there is unfair or unlawful behaviour, you are in a stronger position to take disciplinary action and mitigate the risk of claims for legal liability and the associated cost and reputational damage that can result from such claims.

Sentrient provides an online compliance system to SMEs and larger organisations that come with legally compliant online training and a way to roll out your workplace policies and record any other form of compliance record. One of the remarkable features of the Sentrient online compliance system is the matrix report that provides a traffic light report combining training, policies and records that is readily available for any individual or group of people across your whole organisation. This is another example of how Sentrient takes to make it easy for businesses to do the right thing and protect their people and their business from breaches in safety, invasion of privacy and workplace incidents such as bullying, harassment and discrimination.

To find out more or to get a free demonstration, please go here. Call us on 1300 040 589 or email us on info@sentrient.com.au

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