How To Hire Fairly – Understanding Equal Employment Opportunity
As a business leader, you should consistently aim to promote equality and diversity within your organisation and workplace. A fundamental facet within equality is the requirement of providing equal employment opportunities (‘EEO’), which will be covered in this resource. Enforced under employment laws, EEO ensures that each person regardless of their attributes such as race, or gender have an equal opportunity to gain employment based on their abilities and merit.
On a business level, having equal employment opportunities in your organisation is advantageous for both the business, its brand and most certainly for the employee of the company.
What is Equal Employment Opportunity?
EEO is an overarching law designed to ensure that the entire workforce has equal opportunity to find jobs and work in a safe environment.
There are several specific laws in place to protect individuals from discrimination by employers and hiring managers within the workplace. When factoring the different laws behind discrimination in the workplace, it’s important to understand that discrimination can be implicit or explicit.
Below are five main federal discrimination laws to be aware of:
- Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984;
- Age Discrimination Act 2004; and
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992;
- Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth)
In addition to these federal laws, there are also state-specific laws in place that regulate EEO, being the following:
- New South Wales – Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW)
- Victoria – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (VIC)
- Queensland – Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (QLD)
- South Australia – Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA)
- Western Australia – Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA)
- Tasmania – Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (TAS)
- Australian Capital Territory – Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT)
- Northern Territory – Anti-Discrimination Act 1996 (NT)
If your business operates broadly across a few states, it’s important to adhere to the respective state laws. However, it’s equally important to be familiar with and aware of other state laws around EEO.
Generally speaking, when seeking employment, prospective employees should not be prevented from or limited to employment opportunities based on their:
- Race, Ethnicity or Nationality
- Disability (physical or mental)
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Family or carer responsibilities
- Political opinions
How to comply with the laws of Equal Employment Opportunity?
In order to create a fair and productive workplace, businesses need to adopt the right mindset and approach to hiring and firing employees. However, that’s often not enough and in order to adhere to the EEO laws, businesses need to take specific steps and create a framework to guide their decisions.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (‘AHRC’) has created a straightforward ten steps procedure to guide businesses to comply with the EEO laws:
- Develop and implement a policy on discrimination and harassment. You can adapt the Discrimination and harassment policy template.
- Establish a procedures for responding to discrimination and harassment complaints. Check out these practice guidelines for internal complaint processes.
- Make sure your existing employees are aware of your discrimination and harassment policies and processes. This can be done by sharing this information on new staff commencement week but you should also regularly promote it within the organisation.
- Train your staff on their responsibilities and rights. You can utilise higher management, leadership team, and HR personnel to lead the training.
- Ensure that your managers lead by example and concisely demonstrate behaviour aligned with your policies and procedures. This can be done by including that in the performance indicators.
- Ensure that there are allocated points of contact for employees who seek to discuss or report any issues related to discrimination and harassment.
- Create initiatives that allow your business to further demonstrate its commitment towards workplace equality. In other words, don’t just stick to the rules; go above and beyond to support your employees.
- Identify and address current and future possible risk factors for discrimination and harassment.
- Make sure that your workplace premises are properly equipped with technology that supports employees with disabilities.
- Ascertain potential problematic areas where discrimination or harassment may arise. One way to do that is by conducting company surveys as well as exit interviews to gain insights into how the employees experience.
Do you really need an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy, and how to create one?
Even where the law may not explicitly dictate that you need an EEO policy, it is important that your business still has one in place. Having such a policy will create a workplace culture of acceptance, diversity and ensure your employees feel safe. An EEO policy can certainly boost morale, and can also protect your business from potential risks and future disputes.
With that said, to create an EEO policy, your business should address the following areas:
- The federal and state laws that apply to your business;
- How your business is committed to implementing and reinforcing its EEO;
- A straightforward definition of ‘discrimination’ along with examples of what is classified as discrimination and what is not;
- A clear and simple process for how to deal with discrimination and harassment complaints along with the expected consequences;
- Allocated resources that both administer and guide the development of your policy; and
- Your business’ commitment to ensuring EEO.
Creating and improving your EEO policy is not only critical to have but has tremendous benefits for your organisation. If you don’t have a policy or believe that it’s not effective, it’s highly advisable to revisit it in light of the recommendations of this resource.
At Lazarus Legal, we love working with businesses and commercial entities to legally-proof their operation and help them create stronger legal frameworks. If you need help with your EEO policy or any other matter with employment laws, our business and employment lawyers would love to have a chat with you to see how we can assist you. Get in touch or call us at 02 8644 6000, and we’ll be happy to discuss all your legal requirements.