A stronger stance against discrimination - how it affects you

Posted on 11 October 2011

Governments across Australia have always and continue to take a firm approach towards discrimination in our society. Laws, including the Racial Discrimination Act, Anti-Discrimination Act, Sex Discrimination Act and Equal Employment Opportunity Act (to name a few) were introduced, and continue to operate, for the main purpose of protecting individuals and groups in society from various forms of unfairness, prejudice and discrimination based on cultural factors, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age and class.

The Issue

Despite the existing laws and safeguards, discrimination has continued to be a prevalent issue in society, particularly in the workplace. This has continued to be the case, in part, due to changing society and the emergence and development of new forms of discrimination. Discrimination continues to be a problem in our society and is as always a challenging issue. In more recent times discriminators have been aided by the rapid advancement of electronic communication and the rise of high speed and easy to access social media.

The Solution

In an effort to respond to changing society and continue a strong approach against discrimination, the Federal Government introduced the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 (Cth) (“the Act”) on 24 May 2011.

The Act seeks to bolster the existing discrimination laws, with the aim of eliminating discrimination, facilitating greater legal protection for vulnerable individuals and groups, and promoting gender equality. The Act focuses largely on age and sexual discrimination in the workplace (mainly direct discrimination) and the responsibility of employers to protect their staff.

Most notable of the Act’s amendments include the following:

  • making it unlawful to discriminate against both men and women based on their family responsibilities in all areas of employment not just in relation to termination;
  • making it unlawful to discriminate against a person who is breastfeeding in the workplace or in public;
  • broadening the protections against sexual harassment in the workplace, treating sexual harassment as a form of unlawful discrimination, extending workplace sexual harassment to include sexual harassment from a customer/consumer;
  • broadening the protections for students against sexual harassment within and outside their educational institutions; and
  • strengthening protections against sexual harassment in workplaces and schools conducted via new technologies, such as the internet, social networking mediums and mobile phone texting.

The New Commissioner

In addition to the changes noted above, the Act will also introduce a new Age Discrimination Commissioner to sit in the Australian Human Rights Commission. The new Commissioner will have the responsibility of raising awareness and educating the community about all areas of discrimination, particularly age discrimination, which along with our ageing population seems to be on the rise. The Commissioner will also implement strategies for the elimination of discrimination in all levels of society.

What can you do?

Employers

As an employer it is your responsibility to ensure that your business is complying with all the new changes.

We suggest that you take the time to carefully review your current employment contracts and existing policies and procedures to make sure they take into account and are in line with the new changes and bring into effect proper business practices to ensure that you meet your obligations and responsibilities under the Act.

Business changes to consider may include:

  • notifying and training your current staff in relation to the recent changes and their respective rights and obligations under the Act;
  • implementing new grievance and complaints procedures to assist with cases of sexual harassment in the workplace;
  • implementing more stringent Information and Technology policies and procedures;
  • implementing greater flexibility for staff in relation to family commitments;
  • implementing new breastfeeding provisions and policies to existing employment agreements particularly for those on Parental Leave; and

creating new facilities for breastfeeding to occur in a comfortable and flexible manner.

Employee

As an employee it is important for you to ensure that you understand your rights and obligations under the Act. You should take the time to review and familiarise yourself with the new changes and make sure you discuss any concerns with your employer or your solicitor.

Next Steps

Whether you are an employer or employee, we are here to assist you understand the new provisions of the Act and ensure that you meet your respective obligations and ensure that your rights are protected against unlawful discrimination.  Please contact us if you have an enquiry. 

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