What Is Equal Employment Opportunity?: A Legal Guide

What Is Equal Employment Opportunity?: A Legal Guide

Have you heard of the concept of Equal Employment Opportunity(EEO)? This is a crucial concept to be aware of whether you’re an employer or an employee

However, equal employment opportunity isn’t just a concept. It’s also required under the law.

In this article, we’ll explain what Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) means, who it applies to, when it applies, the laws governing it and how your business can implement it.

Read along!

Table of Contents

What is Equal Employment Opportunity?

EEO refers to the principle that all individuals should receive fair and equal treatment in the workplace and have access to equal employment opportunities.

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Who does Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) apply to?

Equal employment opportunity (EEO) applies to all people. Under federal law, a job applicant can’t be discriminated against or disadvantaged on the basis of the following protected characteristics:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Marital status
  • Political opinion
  • Family or carer’s responsibilities
  • Relationship status
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender identity

When should Equal Employment Opportunity policies be applied?

As an employer or a prospective employer, it’s crucial for you to implement an EEO policy if you plan to hire employees for your business.  There are legal consequences for employers who are found to not be complying with EEO standards. In recent years, the government and society have made efforts to reduce workplace discrimination.

However, making sure your business is complying with EEO standards can be difficult. This is because many employers are sometimes unaware that their workplace policies result in indirect discrimination or that they have discriminatory policies. 

To ensure your workplace policies are ensuring with EEO standards, you may have to change your workplace policies and processes and ensure that you’re complying with the relevant legislation. However, further challenges could exist to meeting EEO standards, such as meeting relevant anti-discrimination laws which may overlap with EEO principles.

In addition to complying with the law, implementing an EEO policy promotes a positive and inclusive workplace culture and increases workplace diversity.

Which laws govern equal employment opportunity?

Anti-discrimination laws

The Federal Government has passed numerous laws aiming to protect people from discrimination in the workplace. These include the following:

You should be aware that the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is responsible for enforcing the legislation outlined above. In accordance with these Acts, the AHRC has the power to investigate any complaints of alleged discrimination.

Despite this, EEO practitioner Dr Sev Ozdowski stated in his speech regarding equal employment opportunity for people with disabilities stated that evidence shows that the implementation of EEO policies hasn’t been great. Furthermore, he highlighted the fact that people with a disability have ten times the unemployment rate as other Australians.

In order to address this issue, employers must go beyond the legislation to provide workplaces that are accessible to everyone.

State and Territory laws

Outside of the Federal Government, Australian States and Territories have all implemented their own legislation to help prevent discrimination in the workplace. These include the following:

  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) in New South Wales
    • The purpose of this Act is to prohibit unlawful discrimination based on sex, race and other characteristics in specific circumstances and to encourage equal opportunity among every individual.
  • Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (VIC) in Victoria
    • The purpose of this Act is to ensure that people are not discriminated against due to their personal characteristics in specific areas of public life. This act also provides remedies to individuals who have experienced discrimination.
  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (QLD) in Queensland
    • The purpose of this Act is to provide protection for Queensland citizens against sexual harassment, unfair discrimination as well as other objectionable acts. Additionally, this act allows individuals to file complaints and request a resolution.
  • Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) in South Australia
    • The purpose of this Act is to prevent individuals from facing workplace discrimination based on their sex, pregnancy, marital status, age, physical and intellectual disability, sexuality or race. It also makes sexual harassment and victimisation of an employee by a colleague or an employer unlawful.
  • Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) in Western Australia
    • The purpose of this Act is to prevent discrimination. It also aims to promote equal employment opportunities for individuals irrespective of their pregnancy, sexual preference,  age, sex, trade union association, impairment, gender history, race, family responsibility or family status, religious or political conviction.
  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (TAS) in Tasmania
    • This act requires all Tasmanian employers and organisations to take ‘reasonable measures’ to protect every agent, employee, officer and member from workplace harassment and discrimination.
  • Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) in the Australian Capital Territory
    • This Act makes discrimination against protected characteristics illegal in relation to an individual’s education,  employment and when they want to access clubs, premises, goods, facilities, services and when they’re requested to provide information. 
  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1996 (NT) in the Northern Territory
    • This Act makes it illegal to discriminate against an individual under certain circumstances on the basis of protected characteristics such as breastfeeding, marital status, pregnancy, sexuality, sex, and parenthood.

How to implement EEO in your workplace

1. Start during the hiring process

Acting in accordance with EEO standards begins before employment begins. Therefore, during the recruitment process, you need to make sure your advertisements don’t include exclusionary language. Furthermore, you should consider introducing nameless resumes to ensure you hire employees based on merit.

2. Look after your current employees

It’s common for legislation to fail to adequately cater to the wants, needs and differences of every individual workplace. However, there are multiple small things you can do to support your employees in order to bring about a large change.  These include the following:

  1. Have a supportive management team that supports the organisational change and commits to EEO values
  2. Regularly review your workplace policies
  3. Source employee information
  4. Look at what other employers do to promote EEO

Other issues for employers can include the accessibility of buildings and the ability to use equipment, amongst other things. Having easily accessible facilities in the workplace will promote a positive workplace culture. This can demand a reasonable adjustment to workplace environments, but these changes are worthwhile.


You have an employee named Mikhail, who has been employed by you for four years. Mikhail gets in an accident where he loses the use of his right leg. Your workplace is only accessible by stairs, making it difficult for Mikhail to access his office. You are obliged to install a lift or other mechanism which will allow Mikhail to access his workspace.

3. Educate your employees on EEO

You should also ensure that your employees understand that they work in an EEO workplace. You should run a session to educate your employees on what this means and what your employees can do if they feel discriminated against in the workplace.

4. Have the right policies in place

Having adequate policies in place is essential for employers. Some of these policies include anti-discrimination and grievance policies. It’s important that you have processes that can be followed when an employee feels discriminated against in the workplace. You must inform your employees that these policies exist and that you take them seriously. 

Employees will feel secure knowing that you take your EEO obligations seriously. This will lead to a more positive work environment where your employees will feel secure and respected. In addition to this, you could implement group training days or other activities which will promote empathy and understanding in your workplace. 

Part of this could involve running events during special occasions such as Pride Month or International Women’s Day. These are the kinds of small efforts that will make a big difference. Being an EEO employer requires dedication toward change, however, this change will benefit you and your employees in the long run.


Equal employment opportunity is a crucial concept that all workplaces should practice and that all employers and employees should be aware of. Being aware of EEO will ensure that you avoid breaching any Federal and State discrimination laws.

Furthermore, being familiar with the concept will allow you and your employees to recognise when an employee or potential employee is being discriminated against. Additionally, evaluating candidates solely on merit will help your business attract and hire the best talent.
If you’re still feeling unsure about whether your workplace policies violate EEO, and you want to make sure you’re policies are legally compliant, you should hire a lawyer for legal advice.

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