Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) provides that everyone should have equal access to employment and employment benefits regardless of their age, gender, race etc. It also stipulates that everyone should be free from discrimination and harassment. Furthermore, employers are required under law to create a workplace that complies with EEO principles. This article will discuss several aspects of EEO, including:

  • what it is;
  • it’s benefits;
  • it’s implementation; and
  • the consequences of non-compliance.

1. What Is EEO?

EEO principles arise under numerous federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Under these laws, you, as an employer, must not discriminate based on a number of different grounds, including:

  • age;
  • gender;
  • sexual orientation;
  • race;
  • colour;
  • ethnicity;
  • religion;
  • physical or mental disability;
  • marital status;
  • pregnancy; and
  • family or carer’s responsibilities.

This applies to all employment processes including:

  • hiring;
  • managing; and
  • dismissing an employee.

What Is Discrimination?

Discrimination can occur either directly or indirectly.

Direct discrimination occurs when you, as an employer, treat an employee less favourably than other employees in the same or similar circumstances on a prohibited ground (such as those mentioned above).

For example, you are directly discriminating if you pay an employee less because of their age.

Conversely, indirect discrimination occurs if you require an employee to comply with a standard requirement or policy that has a disproportionate impact on that employee and is not reasonable in the circumstances.

For example, your policy requires all employees to work full-time. However, the policy disproportionately impacts those who have family or carer’s responsibilities.

You should have a clear understanding of what EEO is so that you can comply with your legal obligations.

2. What Are the Benefits of EEO?

Although you are required to comply with EEO principles under the law, there are many benefits for employers who promote and implement EEO, including:

  • attracting employees from diverse backgrounds;
  • creating a healthy workplace culture; and
  • improving productivity and efficiency.

For example, presenting and promoting your business as an equal employment workplace that welcomes people from diverse backgrounds can make you more attractive as an employer. This will also make you more likely to attract top talent.

In addition, implementing EEO principles can minimise your legal responsibility if an employee makes a complaint.

3. How Do I Implement EEO Principles?

You should continue to develop and update existing workplace policies to cover and implement EEO principles. These policies should be communicated to all employees and be easily accessible.

For example, you can include these policies in your Employee Staff Handbook as part of the onboarding process.

Whether you are updating existing policies or developing a new policy to implement EEO principles, there are a few key aspects to include.

Application

The policies should apply to all employees and during all employment processes, including:

  • recruitment;
  • management; and
  • dismissal.

Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying

The policies should also discuss the workplace issues of discrimination, harassment and bullying, including:

  • your commitment as an employer to ensuring that the workplace is free from these issues;
  • what type of conduct is prohibited;
  • how an employee can make a complaint;
  • who will be responsible for handling complaints; and
  • the process for handling and resolving employee complaints.

Implementing EEO

The policies should discuss what you, as an employer, offers to promote and implement EEO.

For example, offering flexible working opportunities for those with family or carer’s responsibilities, or reasonable workplace adjustments for those with a mental or physical disability.

4. What Happens if I Do Not Comply With EEO Principles?

Employers who do not promote or implement EEO principles may create a poor workplace culture which can result in decreased productivity and efficiency.

Furthermore, if you do not comply with the EEO, you can risk having an employee make a claim against you for breach of discrimination laws. In addition, you could likely be held legally responsible for any discrimination, harassment or bullying that occurs in the workplace. This means that if an employee makes a complaint against another employee for discrimination, you as the employer may be held responsible and face legal consequences. However, this may not apply if you can demonstrate that you took all reasonable steps to prevent or minimise the issue.

For example, this could potentially be by having a policy which implements EEO.

Key Takeaways

You, as an employer, should seek to promote and implement EEO policies to comply with your legal obligations. Furthermore, implementing EEO policies fosters a healthy and productive workplace free from discrimination and harassment. Therefore, you should develop and continuously update workplace policies that demonstrate your commitment to EEO. If you have any questions about equal employment opportunity, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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