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Ask EdJanuary 5, 2016

Ask Ed (Last Updated On: November 9, 2016)


What are my obligations in relation to equal opportunities in the workplace and what are the risks if I do not comply with them?



Equal opportunity within the workplace is about ensuring all employees are treated with fairness, respect and have equal access to employment and/or opportunities which are available within a workplace. All employers are obligated to ensure they do not hinder, prevent or treat a potential or current employee less favourably whether, directly or indirectly, as a result of age, disability, gender identity, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.

It is important for all employers to have a policy that is communicated to all levels of staff, to reflect the businesses commitment to an equal opportunity workplace, free from discrimination. Such a policy should include strategies to minimise the risk of either direct or indirect discrimination.

Some tips on how to do this include:

  1. where possible, ensure shortlisting and interviews for potential new hires are performed by more than one employee, utilising a structured questionnaire to ensure all candidates are interviewed consistently
  2. ensure all promotions and advancement opportunities are based on consistent merit
  3. in the event of a grievance, ensure clear procedures are in place and communicated to staff. This ensures that in the event an employee feels indirectly or directly discriminated against, they can raise their concerns freely and provide the opportunity for the employer to investigate and manage appropriately


The risks of not meeting your obligations in regards to equal opportunity can result in an adverse action claim. The meaning of adverse action is defined by the Fair Work Act as dismissing or refusing to employ a person, and discriminating against the person or otherwise injuring the person in their employment. Adverse action also includes the dismissal of an employee who is temporarily absent from work due to illness or injury.  There is also a reverse onus of proof with adverse action claims, whereby the employer is effectively guilty until proven otherwise. This highlights the importance of keeping accurate records and document of any issues that arises.

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