Your duty as an employer

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, employers have a 'positive duty' to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate:

  • discrimination
  • sexual harassment
  • harassment and bullying
  • victimisation.

Positive duty means that you must try to actively prevent these behaviours, regardless of whether someone has made a complaint.

Discrimination

Discrimination is treating someone unfavourably because of a personal characteristic protected by the law such as sex, race or disability.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment describes a wide range of unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature, that could reasonably be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Bullying

Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour, directed towards an employee or group of employees that:

  • offends
  • humiliates
  • intimidates, or
  • degrades.

It is seen as a workplace hazard and can be reported as discrimination.

While bullying refers to repeated behaviour, harassment generally refers to one-off occasions.

Victimisation

If a member of staff lodges a complaint for regarding discrimination, harassment or bullying, the employer has a responsibility to ensure that a person is not victimised or treated unfavourably because they have:

  • made a complaint, or
  • supported another person to make a complaint.

Exceptions to the law

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, there are exceptions to the law that can permit discrimination in certain circumstances.

For example, employers may limit offering a job to someone of a particular sex if being that sex is a genuine and reasonable job requirement. However, be aware that relying on an exception doesn't necessarily prevent a discrimination complaint being made against you.

Create an equal opportunity policy

Your workplace needs a written policy that is openly displayed and that all employees are trained in, including new starters.

Your human resources (HR) policies and procedures manual should include an equal opportunity policy and information about discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment and victimisation in the workplace.

This can help you comply with your legal obligations – including positive duty.

Our HR manual template has everything you'll need to create your equal opportunity policy, including:

  • a clear indication that unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated
  • examples of the kinds of behaviour that are unacceptable
  • how employees might manage discrimination and sexual harassment
  • how complaints will be handled and escalated when necessary
  • protections against victimisation
  • how the business will handle reasonable adjustments
  • flexible working arrangements for parents and carers.

Use our HR manual template to create policies for your business:

How to prevent discrimination

Once you understand your responsibilities, and have created policies for your business, it's important to find ways to prevent issues before they develop into a complaint.

The following tips can help you prevent discrimination in the workplace.

Educate your staff

It's important to educate your staff and make sure they understand what their rights are – and what your equal opportunities policies are – so they can play a role in ensuring they're carried out.

You should:

  • create a policy document
  • make sure staff have read and understand it
  • train an equal opportunity officer
  • encourage staff to report any incidences.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission offers online and in-person training for staff members about workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation.

Know your dispute resolution procedures

Knowing what your procedures are ensures you can deal with disputes quickly and without the need to escalate them.

Our HR policies and procedures manual template (DOCX 216.86 KB)DOCX icon has clear procedures for taking and dealing with complaints. Adjust the template to suit your business needs.

Communicate regularly with your staff

One of the best ways to prevent issues before they escalate is by getting to know your staff well.

Having clear, open channels of communication with your staff can bring to your attention any issues early – giving you an opportunity to prevent those issues getting any worse.