In a world of globalisation, the workplace can consist of a range of people from different backgrounds. However, some employers fail to see the advantage in diversity. Hence, discrimination can occur when recruiting and can continue in the workplace. Therefore, legal safeguards exist in various legislations to ensure an equal opportunity for everyone.
At a federal level, the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) provides a framework to ensure social inclusion for all Australian employees. It expressly states that “an employer must not take adverse action against a person who is an employee, or prospective employee, of the employer because of the person’s race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.” As you can see, the types of discrimination are exhaustive, so it’s important that different groups are acknowledged.
Further, the Act outlines the discrimination legislations that exist on a national level:
- Age Discrimination Act 2004
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992
- Racial Discrimination Act 1975
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984
These national legislations help to create legislation that are more specific to each state:
- Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 of New South Wales
- Equal Opportunity Act 2010 of Victoria
- Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 of Queensland
- Equal Opportunity Act 1984 of Western Australia
- Equal Opportunity Act 1984 of South Australia
- Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 of Tasmania
- Discrimination Act 1991 of the Australian Capital Territory
- Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 of the Northern Territory
Unfortunately, discrimination can be subtle, and as an employer, you may be discriminating unintentionally. Therefore, to ensure this is not the case, speak to one of our discrimination lawyers today. Further, there may even be discrimination when simply posting a job opening! Read 5 Ways To Make Sure Your Hiring Process Isn’t Discriminatory to prevent this from occurring.
Legal Consequences of Discrimination
Legal proceedings can occur against an employer. The compensation for discrimination or harassment complaints can be up to $100,000 in NSW. However, there is no limit federally. Here is an example to help illustrate the application of anti-discrimination law:
A 2015 NSW case involved an employee who has awarded $170,000 in compensation due to discrimination towards her disability. An employee was diagnosed with Chrohn’s Disease, which is a disability under Australian law. However, her employer failed to make “reasonable adjustments” to her work duties after her diagnosis. Consequently, she lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission and took her employer to court. This case is a reminder of employer obligations to ensure staff are catered for.
Additionally, The Australian Human Rights Commission has a range of fact sheets for employers, to help you develop effective policies and best practice guidelines. Further, education and assistance for employees and employers on preventing discrimination in the workplace can be found through the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Extra Initiatives That Are Low-Cost
Fortunately, simple changes around workplace culture can make a huge impact on encouraging an inclusive environment. Additionally, compulsory workshops & training can be a refresher for employees. Team events and fundraisers for Harmony Day, International Women’s Day and National Reconciliation Week, can be an excellent way of showing support to team members from different backgrounds. Ultimately, it’s important to acknowledge and foster the power in diversity, whether differences are in relation to race, gender or disabilities.
Discrimination can take many forms and it may be easy to not even realise that discrimination is occurring in your workplace. However, as an employer, you have an obligation to take positive action to stop discrimination. Work-place policy can implement this, and workplace culture can express this. Further, employers who are found to have acted discriminatorily towards an employee may face serious legal penalties.
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