Combating Discrimination In The Workplace- How Proactive Should You Be?

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Australia supports a discrimination free workplace for all of its citizens within their places of employment. There are two agencies tasked with the creation and compliance of the laws that govern fair and discrimination free workplaces. These agencies and laws govern discrimination within the workplace, fairness in hiring policies, anti-harassment and bullying policies.

The first of these agencies is the Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales Australia. This Board is in place to promote and facilitate policies of fairness for all employees. The Board is under the jurisdiction of the New South Wales Department of Justice and handles complaints against employers for discrimination and unfair work conditions. The Anti-Discrimination Board implements the laws as set out in the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1977. 

The second of these agencies is the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commission investigates complaints of violations against human rights in the workplace and elsewhere. Some of the key areas of complaints include issues pertaining to harassment or bullying with regard to;

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Race
  • Disability

The Commission assists with complaints that involve workplace bullying and harassment, but also education, commerce and other administrative issues.

In addition, the Fair Work Ombudsman Act also address the legalities of employment discrimination. The categories which cannot be discriminated against in workplace setting include;

  1. Race
  2. Sex
  3. Sexual Orientation
  4. Age
  5. Physical or Mental Disability
  6. Marital Status
  7. Family or Carer’s Responsibilities
  8. Pregnancy
  9. Religion
  10. Political Opinion
  11. National Extraction
  12. Social Origin

Discrimination can occur within a myriad of employer actions. Some of the more common forms of discrimination in the workplace include refusing to hire someone due to their age, race, or for being pregnant. In addition, employers can make the mistake of firing an employee for expressing a political opinion, practicing their religion or for their sexual orientation. Lastly, if an employer refuses to promote an employee due to their marital status, or the appearance of a disability, a complaint can be brought against the employer.

A person who believes they have been discriminated against in the course of their employment, or during the hiring process or firing process, can make a complaint to the Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales. The Board can investigate your complaint as long as it has occurred within the last 12 months. Your complaint must be in writing and sent to the Board for review. Thereafter the Board will contact you for further details regarding the incident. They will also contact the employer involved and request to speak with them about the incident. The Board also has the option of setting up a conciliatory meeting between the parties to discuss the complaint and attempt to resolve it.

If your complaint is filed with the Australian Human Rights Commission, the process is very similar. They, too, offer a form of conciliation to promote discussion and resolution for all parties involved. To prepare for a conciliation meeting be sure to have your facts straight and be able to express them to the conciliator in a calm and articulate manner. After speaking with the complainant privately, the conciliator will also speak with the respondent, privately. Subsequently, the conciliator may decide to bring the parties together to speak and resolve the issue(s). Conciliation is meant to be a confidential and highly successful process for resolving discrimination and human rights issues amongst the parties. If the conciliation is unsuccessful, the parties may elect to take the issue to the proper Federal court.

One of the many ways in which an employer can thwart the accusation of workplace discrimination is to be sure to hire a diverse workforce. Diverse meaning that the employees are of various ages, male and female, married and single, parents and non-parents, those with disabilities and those who are able bodied. A workplace of diverse backgrounds, ages, and races, shows that an employer is serious about being an equal opportunity employer.

In addition, it is important that employers are careful not to fire any employee except for instances of well documented poor work performance, excessive absenteeism, or other documented work related incidents that are against company policy or relate to work performance only. An employer who fires an employee for any reason pertaining to any of the prohibited categories can find themselves in violation of the laws against discrimination.

In the event that you find yourself in need of assistance with work related discrimination issues, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.

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