Equality In The Workplace: Is There “Equal Employment Opportunity” In Australia?

Equality in the workplace is a human right for you as a worker. In Australia it is against the law for employers to discriminate against you, or harass you, either at work and when you apply for work.

Street art of the word Equal

What is Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)?

‘Equal Employment Opportunity’ means equal access and opportunity to be able to work, based on merit – with no discrimination, or unfair treatment. It should apply when you are looking for a job, as well as when you have a job. It should mean everyone is safe at work, and it should also help create diversity in the Australian workplaces, with no discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability, age, etc.

Equal Employment Opportunity, including equality in the workplace, is a positive enforcement for both employers and workers. It means there is a more diverse workforce (people from different backgrounds, cultures, ages, genders, etc. with different values and personal choices) which should help retain staff and make them more satisfied and happy. It reduces or stops discrimination and bullying; which should mean workers are generally more productive. It should also mean you have more options for employment, as you won’t be unfairly treated when applying for a job. But does everyone get the same opportunity?

Laws against discrimination at work or when trying to get a job

There are many laws in Australia which are meant to stop discrimination against you when you are applying for work, when you are at work or when employers try to dismiss you.

There are major, specific national laws against discrimination based on age, sex, race or a disability.

Employers must give everyone “equal opportunity” in regard to hiring, managing them and dismissing them. As well as not discriminating in regard to age, sex, race or a mental or physical disability, they should also not discriminate on grounds of religious belief or activity (including holidays); ethnicity or colour; sexual orientation and gender identity; your relationship status (e.g. eing married); family or carer responsibilities; political opinion; or if you are pregnant. 

The State and Territory governments in Australia also have various laws, similar to the national laws, which prohibit discrimination on the grounds listed above. These include breastfeeding, political belief or activity, trade union activity, lawful sexual activity, and also association with anyone involved in any of those activities. 

There are other activities and attributes too which you are allowed to do and have; the Equal Opportunity Laws cover a lot of things – including the wearing of jewellery; what clothes you wear, and tattoos. 

It is against the law for you to be sacked (dismissed) due to anything on that list above – anything covered by anti-discrimination laws.  

Equal opportunity at work, or when applying for work, is also a human right – so the laws in place in Australia which should prevent discrimination should mean your rights are protected. So it’s important that you know what rights you have – so you can stop any unfair treatment and discrimination.( For instance, you should not be paid less just because you are a female).

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Discrimination in the workplace

Also, you may be indirectly discriminated against because you belong to a certain category of people certain e.g. an employer may want to only employ managers who are full-time. This may be unfair to people who have family responsibilities or university and study commitments.  

It is important for you to know that “Equal Employment Opportunity” laws apply to the prevention of bullying and harassment at work. And how to stop it. Employers should not bully or harass you in the workplace, or allow your work colleagues to do this. They must provide a safe workplace. If you’re worried that this is happening to you, find information on what steps you should take via the links provided which contain contact detail for anti-discrimination bodies such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, and the Fair Work Commission. 

In Australia, there is a “Fair Work Act”. This means a worker can seek help to stop bullying if the employer does not stop the harassment or cannot resolve a harassment or bullying problem at work. 

Employers should have a specific set of “Equal Employment Opportunity” policies at their workplace. These should clearly state the fair and equal treatment and rights of all workers, and outline how workers or applicants can complain and object to unfair treatment and how those complaints can be dealt with.

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How do you stop discrimination? How do you protect your rights? 

If you feel you have been discriminated against in any way, or suffered from unfair treatment, check out your particular rights under your employer’s “Equal Employment Opportunity” policy, and official bodies such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, or the Fair Work Commission or Fair Work Ombudsman (if a bullying or harassment problem at your work has not been stopped); or Safe Work Australia. The Australian Human Rights Commission has fact sheets regarding Equal Employment Opportunity policies and anti-discrimination laws.