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What Is Equal Employment Opportunity? (2020 Update)

What Is Equal Employment Opportunity? (2020 Update)

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) means not discriminating against employees or job candidates in the workplace. Find out how to practice it here.

20th March 2020

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is an instrumental concept to know if you’re an employer or employee. EEO refers to the idea that all people have the right to receive fair treatment in the workplace, as well as other areas of public life. This applies regardless of where someone comes from, their gender, their religion and so on. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is not only an idea, but it is also a requirement under law. Subsequently, both employers and prospective employers have to ensure they practice Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO). In this article, we’ll explain what Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) means and also how you can ensure your business practices it.

Who does Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) apply to?

Federal laws state that a prospective employee cannot be disadvantaged or discriminated against due to the following:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion

EEO standards are important to implement if you hire employees. In addition to abiding by the law, you’ll also be promoting a positive and inclusive workplace culture. Legal ramifications do exist for employers who are found not to comply with EEO standards. In recent years, efforts have been made by the Government and society at large for there to be less discrimination in the workplace. However, making sure your business does this can be difficult, and many employers may not even realise that they have discriminatory policies. However, there are some barriers to achieving this that go beyond complying with the relevant legislation, and involve changing your processes. Beyond EEO, you also have to ensure that you comply with the relevant anti-discrimination laws. which may overlap with EEO principles.

Anti-discrimination laws

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

  • The Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • The Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • The Sex Discrimination Act 1984

Significantly, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is tasked with enforcing the above legislation. Under these, the AHRC has the power to investigate any complaints of alleged discrimination.

Despite this, EEO practitioner Dr Sev Ozdowski has said that evidence of EEO in the workplace is not all that great. He says that people living with a disability for example, still have ten times the unemployment rate of other Australians. To combat this, workplaces need to go beyond the legislation and provide a work environment that is accessible by all.

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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 are:

  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) in New South Wales
  • Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (VIC) in Victoria
  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (QLD) in Queensland
  • Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) in South Australia
  • Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) in Western Australia
  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (TAS) in Tasmania
  • Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) in the Australian Capitol Territory
  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1996 (NT) in the Northern Territory

How to implement EEO in your workplace

1. Start during the hiring process

Acting in accordance with EEO standards commences before employment begins. When recruiting for roles, be sure not to have any exclusionary language on your advertisements. Further, consider introducing name-blind resumes to ensure you hire based on merit.

2. Look after your current employees

Something which the legislation commonly fails to do is to adequately cater for the needs and wants of all differences in the workplace. However, there are a number of little things you can do which will affect change on a larger scale. Some of these tips include:

  1. Have a supportive management team that supports organisational change and adhere to EEO values
  2. Review your workplace policies regularly
  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 they are changes worth making.

Example

You have an employee named Mikhail, who has been employed by you for 4 years. In that time, he was in an accident where he lost the use of his right leg. Your workplace is only accessible by stairs, making it difficult for John 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. 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 a must for employers. Some of these policies include anti-discrimination and grievance policies. It’s important that you have processes to follow in the event that an employee feels discriminated against in the workplace. Also be sure to inform your employees that these policies are in place and that you take them seriously. Employees will feel secure knowing that you take your EEO obligations seriously. From this, you’ll also be contributing to a more positive work environment, as your employees will feel secure and respected.

Beyond this, be open to engaging in group training days or other activities which will promote empathy and understanding in your workplace. Part of this could involve running events on significant days such as Pride Month or International Women’s Day. It’s little effort like these which will make a big difference. Being an EEO employer requires concerted efforts towards change, but making this change is in the interests of both you and your employees in the long run.

Finally

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is an important concept that all workplaces should practice. Beyond adhering to Federal and State discrimination laws, it’s also wise to be mindful that many unconscious biases still operate in the workplace today. Educating yourself and your employees on these issues means that you’ll be better able to recognise when an employee or potential employee is being discriminated against. After all, assessing people based purely on merit is the surest way to attract top talent to your business.

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Author
Zachary Swan

Zac is a consultant at Lawpath, Australia’s largest and fastest growing online legal platform. Since joining Lawpath, Zac has assisted 1000s of startups and small business’s with their legal needs.