Equal opportunity means that all employees are to be treated equally or similarly, and are not disadvantaged by prejudice or bias. In Australia, national and state laws exist which forbids discrimination, harassment and bullying within the workplace.
An employer is guilty of discrimination if they treat an employee less favorably due to their physical attributes. Discrimination is when an employer takes adverse action towards an employee or prospective employee due to the attributes of that person.
Employers must never discriminate against an employee or potential employee due to:
sex or sexual orientation
a physical or mental disability
family and/ or carer’s responsibilities
A company should also have an equal opportunity policy, outing in clear and simple terms what is and is not acceptable workplace behaviour. This policy will help staff and managers to understand their rights and responsibilities within the workplace. It is important that employers consider whether there are any current policies or procedures which may result in direct or indirect discrimination.
However, treating someone differently is not always necessarily unlawful discrimination. For example where an employee’s performance has to be managed due to their below standard work, this action has to be taken and is completely unrelated to their attributes.
Three key items of equal opportunity are explored further below.
Ageism is the stereotyping or discrimination of a person due to their age, whether young or old. Under the Fair Work Act, Age Discrimination Act and State equal opportunity laws, it is illegal to discriminate against someone due to their age. This means employers cannot treat an older employee or potential employee less favourably than someone who is younger, or vice versa.
Discrimination may not always be intentional. For example, the type of language used in a job ad may indirectly discriminate against an older applicant. When advertising roles, employers must take care not to use youthful slang or to only advertise in places frequented by younger jobseekers. Remember, a mature aged candidate may stay with your company longer than a younger employee.
The first step towards avoiding ageism within your workplace is to review your company’s culture, appraisal of your hiring and screening process and preventative training. When employing mature workers, make sure you have policies to avoid age discrimination and victimisation when setting pay, providing training and development, selecting for promotion, or in disciplinary and grievance processes.
Diversity in the workplace refers to having employees who come from a large range of backgrounds. This includes having employees from different age groups, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs and educational backgrounds. Employers who encourage diversity within their business could see an increase in the level of teamwork, cooperation, broader thinking and better decision making. Employers should always promote this culture formally in their employment contracts, handbooks and in their recruitment and training processes.
Every workplace has a culture. This is the character and personality of your workplace. In some workplaces, especially male dominated workplaces, the culture may make it difficult for women or others to be comfortable. Of course, the Australian workforce is made up of men and women as well as people of all ages, races and sexual orientation. This means behaviour such as rude screensavers, nude pin up posters and sexual banter may constitute workplace harassment if they are unwelcoming, offensive, humiliating or intimidating.
The best way for employers to provide equal opportunities within their workplace is to consider the following:
have a policy statement: this policy statement will clearly explain what is considered discrimination and harassment and the repercussions of engaging in this type of behaviour
educate employees: this can be done as part of employee induction training or included in the employee handbook, posted on notice boards or included in collateral which is easily accessible to staff
implement grievance handling procedures: employee grievances should be addressed in a confidential, speedy and effective way. The procedure for handling employee grievances should be an integral part of a business’s overall strategy for minimising discrimination and harassment at work.
If you would like to ensure that your workplace is equal and fair, contact us today. Employsure can help with the implementation of policies and codes of conduct in your workplace. Call us today on 1300 651 415.
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