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Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is the principle that everyone should have equal access to employment opportunities based on merit. This access to equal employment should be without fear of discrimination or harassment playing a role in decision-making in the area of employment. Therefore, many Australian employers develop EEO policies to promote workplace diversity and create a safe workplace for all employees. Likewise, it is best for all employers to have such a policy, regardless of the business’ size. This article explains the concept of EEO and what Australian employers may want to include in an EEO policy.

How Does Equal Employment Opportunity Work?

The Australian Federal Government has passed numerous laws which aim to protect people from discrimination within the workplace. These include the:

  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth);
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth);
  • Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth);
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth); and
  • Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth).

These laws, alongside other state-based anti-discrimination legislation, are the primary source of EEO obligations. Accordingly, employers who hire, manage or dismiss employees must not discriminate based on a variety of attributes, including:

  • race;
  • ethnicity;
  • colour;
  • sex;
  • sexual orientation;
  • gender identity;
  • relationship status;
  • family or carer responsibilities;
  • pregnancy;
  • mental or physical disability;
  • religion;
  • political opinion; or
  • age.

Additionally, employers must not dismiss employees or take adverse action (such as a demotion or disciplinary proceedings) against them based on an attribute that is covered by anti-discrimination laws.

Importantly, you should note that discrimination can occur directly or indirectly.

For example, direct discrimination could be an employer paying an employee less because the employee is a female, compared to the pay male employees receive.

However, indirect discrimination could mean a policy that discriminates against certain groups but does not specifically target any individual employee. For example, having a policy that managers can only work full-time may be unfair for people with family or carer responsibilities. Another example might be a policy that requires all employees to have a flu vaccination, where some individuals’ beliefs or culture prevent them from complying with such a policy.

Additionally, some employers in certain sectors may have to follow laws that show their commitment to EEO. For example, under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth), some Australian employers must report on how they promote gender equality in the workplace.

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Why Should Employers Care About Equal Employment Opportunities?

Employers who promote EEO attract more diverse workers, improve worker productivity and promote a healthy workplace culture.

Furthermore, employers can minimise liability in the event of a related claim from an employee by taking all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination in the workplace. Indeed, you should note that the law will usually hold employers responsible for any discrimination, harassment and bullying of employees by others in the company. However, if employers can show that they took reasonable steps to minimise risk in the workplace, they may not be held liable.

What Should Employers Include in an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy?

An EEO policy should set out how the employer will comply with all EEO obligations. Indeed, the EEO policy should be included in an Employee Handbook or policy suite and given to all employees as part of the onboarding process. Furthermore, an employer may also hold regular training sessions to ensure all employees are aware of their EEO obligations.

Here are some critical areas to cover when drafting a policy.

Application

The policy should apply to:

  • all employees, including those who work full-time, part-time, casually or temporarily;
  • employees at work, at work-related events or company functions or activities happening outside of work; and
  • all employment processes, including hiring, training, and dismissing employees. 

In addition, the policy may highlight how the company meets their obligations under the relevant anti-discrimination laws.

Responsibilities

The policy can set out who should be responsible for certain EEO processes. For example, if a manager does not resolve an initial complaint, a Human Resources representative may be the next escalation point.  

Indeed, managers and more senior employees should have greater responsibility to ensure the workplace is free from discrimination, harassment or bullying.  

Recruitment and Dismissal

Importantly, an EEO policy may highlight the importance of merit-based hiring and performance management without regard to attributes such as race, sex or gender. This means that you may not take these protected characteristics into account when you are making hiring decisions or choosing who to promote. This is because such discrimination can lead to bias and inequality and ultimately create a less inclusive and welcoming workplace. If your employees do not feel as if they are valued based on the standard of their work, morale can drop and they may not feel as if they should bother trying to perform their work to a high standard. In extreme case, an exclusive and intolerant workplace culture can cause employees to seek employment elsewhere.

Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying

Your EEO policy should address discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Therefore, employers should consider including details on:

  • the definition of discrimination and harassment;
  • what steps the business is taking to minimise these issues in the workplace;
  • a grievances policy that allows employees to make a complaint concerning these matters; and
  • a process to handle and resolve complaints.

Promoting Equal Opportunities

An EEO policy may highlight how the employer addresses equal opportunity in the workplace. For example, the policy can state if there are:

  • workplace flexibility policies for parents or those with carer responsibilities;
  • equal training opportunities for men and women in the workplace; or
  • reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities.

Key Takeaways

Indeed, an Equal Employment Opportunity policy can help promote diversity and minimise discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace. Therefore, a well-written policy can provide clear procedures in case of a complaint. For more information about EEO, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)?

EEO is an employment practice where all employees have the right to be treated equally in all aspects of their jobs.

Which Australian laws protect people from discrimination within the workplace?

Anti-discrimination laws in Australia include the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Age Discrimination Act 2004 and Racial Discrimination Act 1975. However, in addition to these, there are a variety of state-based anti-discrimination laws.

What should an equal employment opportunity policy contain?

An EEO policy should set out how the employer will comply with all EEO obligations. Therefore, the EEO policy should be included in an Employee Handbook and given to all employees as part of the onboarding process.

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