Federal and State legislation requires employers to act in non-discriminatory ways. (It is important to note that "work" is widely defined to include voluntary, part or full-time, and contract employment). Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) principles ensure that everyone has an equal chance to seek and obtain employment and promotion. EEO also underpins selection procedures. Selection must be based on merit - applicants must be assessed only on their relative ability to effectively do a job.

One of the main purposes of EEO is to remove discrimination from the work environment.  Discrimination in employment happens when a person with a particular characteristic or attribute is treated less favourably than another without that characteristic or attribute would be treated in similar circumstances.

Equal Employment Opportunity or affirmative action legislation is essentially proactive and designed to prevent incidents of discrimination.  This legislation places the responsibility to ensure that discrimination does not occur squarely upon management of organisations which employ people.

Four EEO target groups are identified in Federal and State legislation. These are:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • People with a disability
  • Migrants whose first language is not English and their children
  • Women

EEO policies and practices are particularly aimed at eliminating unjustifiable and unlawful discrimination in employment for people in these groups. However, EEO has benefits for all people in an organisation (and for the people served by an organisation) as it ensures that staff are selected and/or promoted on merit.

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999, requires all employers throughout Australia with more than 100 staff to develop programs for women designed to ensure that action is taken to eliminate discrimination against women and that measures are taken to contribute to equal opportunity for women in relation to employment matters.  These employers must provide reports on their programs and actions to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.

Anti-discrimination legislation

Anti-discrimination legislation enables a complaint to be lodged with a relevant body after an act of discrimination has occurred. The legislation has been in effect in Australia since the mid 1970s. The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 prohibits discrimination in a range of areas, including employment, on the basis of any of the following attributes:

  • Sex
  • Relationship status
  • Pregnancy
  • Parental status
  • Gender identity
  • Religious belief or activity
  • Political belief or activity
  • Trade union activity
  • Lawful sexual activity
  • Breastfeeding
  • Sexuality
  • Age
  • Race
  • Impairment
  • Family responsibilities
  • Association with, or relation to a person identified on the basis of any of the above attributes

The Federal Government has also enacted anti-discrimination legislation, including the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Age Discrimination Act 2004 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.  The Federal legislation is in similar terms to the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

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