Articles > Employment

What are Equal Employment Opportunities?

June 2, 2021   Alex OumPhilip Evangelou

Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) are a set of legislative regulations designed to promote equal opportunities, eliminate discrimination, and provide an avenue for those whose rights may have been breached. Australia has a number of federal and state laws that legislate employment opportunities, discrimination, and harassment. These laws work to regulate Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) and employers have a legal responsibility to comply with them both in and out of the workplace. 

EEO laws are enforced to achieve specific objectives in the area of employment and workers’ rights. These include:

  • The promotion of everyone’s right to equal opportunities
  • Eliminating discrimination, harrassment and victimisation
  • Providing an avenue for people who think that their rights have been breached

The Federal Government has also made it clear through EEO laws that it is unlawful for businesses to disadvantage employees and job seekers due to any of the following factors:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Marital status
  • Family or carer’s responsibilities
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Political opinion
  • National extraction (place of birth or ancestry)
  • Social origin (class, caste or socio-occupational category)
  • Industrial activities (such as belonging to a trade union)

Employers need to be aware of their responsibility in creating an environment that is not hostile towards employees. It is important that employers are proactive to the possibility of inappropriate behaviour by having set practices and procedures in place to deal with complaints effectively, rather than merely reacting to situations when they occur. 

Why are Equal Employment Opportunities important?

Both employees and businesses benefit from EEO practices. For employees and job seekers, they are afforded protection from being the subject of discriminatory behaviour either in the workplace or when looking for employment. Workers also have clarity in understanding the expectations of acceptable behaviour in the workplace and what the boundaries are when it comes to interacting with their peers. 

For employers and businesses, enforcing effective EEO policies ensures that not only do they have a more diverse workplace, but they have safeguards and procedures in place in the circumstance where a person feels as though they have been unfairly treated by a business or worker. 

Employers have a key responsibility in preventing harassment, bullying and discrimination from occuring in the workplace. Any incidents involving harassment or discrimination require employers to manage the situation quickly and appropriately. Issues that are left unaddressed can create hostile working environments which can lead to further incidents or complaints. 

How your business can comply with Equal Employment Opportunities laws

It is important for businesses to understand the need to comply with EEO laws as any breach of these obligations can result in complaints and further legal action depending on the severity of the case. 

The recruitment process

Complying with EEO laws starts even before a business decides to hire a person. During the recruitment phase, ensure that the job posting and any subsequent touchpoints such as interviews are not directly or indirectly discriminating against any persons. Examples of this include the type of language used or the types of questions asked to potential employees. 

Educating your employees

It is not enough for a business to just have EEO policies. Education plays a fundamental role in ensuring that employees at all levels of the organisation understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to interacting with others in a workplace environment. Businesses should have routine practices in place to educate employees about safe workplace practices, as well as the different procedures available to anyone who wants to make a complaint if they feel as though they have been a victim of workplace harassment or discrimination. 

Implementing Equal Employment Opportunities policies

Businesses that have valid EEO policies in place are in a better position to enforce them in the workplace. This not only includes understanding the procedures involved in dealing with hostile behaviour and complaints, but also embracing EEO practices such as promoting opportunities and participating in a diverse range of cultural and social events. This demonstrates to employees an acknowledgement that the business is intentional in promoting EEO opportunities. 

Reviewing your Equal Employment Opportunities policies

Apart from having EEO policies, it is also important for businesses to actively and routinely review them to ensure that they are up to standard. EEO policies that become outdated run the risk of losing their validity and effectiveness. This creates an unfavourable circumstance and puts businesses in a vulnerable position where they may be open to complaints and legal action if an incident occurs. 

Key takeaways 

EEO is not just an idea that businesses are encouraged to acknowledge, they are required to be complied with by law. EEO laws work to prevent harrassment and discrimination in the workplace, as well as providing people with a valid procedure to lodge a complaint if they believe that their rights have been breached. 

Both employees and businesses are protected when it comes to enforcing EEO practices. For employees, they are protected against discriminatory behaviour and have confidence in knowing that they will not be disadvantaged when it comes to career opportunities within the business. EEO policies also clarify the behaviour expected from employees, removing any ambiguity when it comes to understanding what is right and wrong in a workplace environment. 

For businesses, EEO policies serve as a safeguard against incidents and complaints as they outline how the business is actively working to prevent harassment and discrimination, as well as having a valid complaints procedures to deal with complaints quickly and appropriately. 

Contact our employment lawyers if you would like to speak about the issues raised in this article, or any other topic related to commercial law.

About Alex Oum

Alex OumAlex is a fifth-year student studying a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Communication (Digital Social Media). He has been working in the not-for-profit sector for 3+ years, as well as spending 3+ years in customer experience and B2C sales. Alex is motivated about making the law more accessible to individuals and businesses so that they are able to achieve their goals.

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.