Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is the principle that everyone can have equal access to employment opportunities based on merit, without fear of discrimination or harassment. 

Many employers develop EEO policies to promote workplace diversity and create a safe workplace for all employees.

This article explains how EEO works and what employers should include in an EEO policy.

How Does EEO Work?

Federal and state anti-discrimination laws are the primary source of EEO obligations. Employers who hire, manage or dismiss employees are not allowed to discriminate based on:

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

Discrimination can occur directly or indirectly. For example, direct discrimination could mean paying someone less because the employee is female.

Indirect discrimination could mean a policy that unfairly affects certain groups. For example, having a policy that managers can only work full-time may be unfair for people who have family or carer responsibilities.

Furthermore, EEO extends to the management of workplace bullying and harassment. Under the Fair Work Act, employees can apply for an order to stop the bullying if the employer fails to resolve the issue. Employers also cannot dismiss employees based on an attribute that is covered by anti-discrimination laws.

Additionally, employers have to follow laws that show their commitment to EEO. For example, under the Workplace Gender Equality Act, employers with 100 or more employees must report on how they promote gender equality in the workplace.

Why Should Employers Care About EEO?

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 complaint from an employee. Employers are usually held 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 the issue, they may not be held liable.

Therefore, EEO policies can set out a transparent and fair process for complaints to be managed and resolved. This reduces the chance of the complaint escalating to an external party such as the Fair Work Commission. 

What Should Employers Include in an EEO Policy?

An EEO policy should set out how the employer will comply with all EEO obligations. Ideally, the EEO policy should be included in an Employee Handbook and given to all employees as part of the onboarding process. 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 on a temporary basis;
  • 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 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 HR representative can step in.  

Managers and executives will have greater responsibility to ensure the workplace is free from discrimination, harassment or bullying.  

Recruitment and Dismissal

An EEO policy may highlight the importance of merit-based hiring, without regard to attributes such as race, sex or gender.  Additionally, it can include details on the dismissal of employees without breaching unfair dismissal laws.  

Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying

Discrimination, harassment or bullying in the workplace should be discussed in an EEO policy. Employers should consider including details on:

  • its definition;
  • what steps are taken to minimise the issue;
  • a grievances policy that allows employees to make a complaint; and
  • a process to handle and resolve complaints.

Some employers may choose to draft a separate policy to address this topic in greater detail. However, EEO policies should still set out the steps taken to address the issue and redirect the employee to the separate policy if required. 

Promoting Equal Opportunities

An EEO policy may highlight equal opportunities that are available to employees. 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

An Equal Employment Opportunity policy can help promote diversity and minimise discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace. A well-written policy also provides clear procedures in case of a complaint. 

If you have any questions about EEO, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Bonnie-Anne Talese
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