Friday refresher – Equal employment opportunity 
 
 
 
Equal employment opportunity (EEO) covers discrimination, anti-discrimination, harassment and other related topics.  This year, gender equality and pay as well as the #metoo movement of sexual discrimination against women was topical in relation to EEO.  It is an ongoing obligation of employers to ensure workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment.  

In Australia, national and state laws cover EEO and anti-discrimination in the workplace.  It is essential for companies to understand their rights and responsibilities under these laws to ensure compliance.

In addition, non-public sector employers with 100 or more employees must submit an annual report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency between 1 April and 31 May each year based on the previous 12-month period.

Essentially, it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a number of protected attributes including age, disability, race, sex, intersex status, gender identity and sexual orientation in certain areas of public life, including education and employment.  It is beneficial for companies to have a diverse workforce as research shows it can: 
  • Increase business performance and productivity
  • Employee productivity
  • Innovative thinking
  • Wellbeing; and
  • Lower risk of discrimination and harassment   
EEO covers all aspects of the employee life cycle including recruitment, workplace culture, policies, practices, processes, management behaviours and consistency and dismissal.  Every employee is responsible for behaving as per the company values, behaviours and polices.  However, senior management have a key role in implementing EEO within the workplace as well as manager and supervisors. 

What can managers do to implement EEO?

If the company size is less than 100 employees, it is recommended to implement either an EEO policy, a statement or expectation from senior management to ensure it is clear that discrimination and harassment in the work place will not be tolerated.  It is really important that managers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities under EEO laws, company policies and the process to follow in the circumstance they feel discriminated against or harassed. 

Company policies should be disseminated regularly throughout the year and at points along the employee lifecycle including; employee induction, employee handbook, company intranet, notice boards or handouts to all employees. 

Conducting regular session(s) with employees to talk through the company policies, issues and obligations under EEO laws, makes it clearer for employees to understand what is required of them.  Sessions can be held in the form of brown bag lunches, team meetings, town halls, webinars or compliance training.  

The key focus of the training should cover: 
  • How managers will implement the policies
  • Manager rights and responsibilities particularly in recruitment, dismissal and grievance handling
  • Employee rights and responsibilities; and 
  • The process an employee should follow in the circumstance they are discriminated against or harassed
Finally, if an employee grievance is raised it is critical that is managed swiftly, confidentially and effectively. It can be a traumatic time for all parties involved and offering the support of Employee Assistance Programs can be beneficial. 

Grievances that are handled fairly and dealt with appropriately will support an EEO culture and minimise cases going to the anti-discrimination board.
 
Further Resources

You can download legally compliant contracts, templates and policies from our sister site, HR Advance.
 
Still have a question on EEO? Send it to our Ask an Expert service – it's free for subscribers.

Enjoy your weekend,
The WorkplaceInfo team
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