Federal anti-discrimination laws in Australia help to prevent unlawful discrimination by recruiters and employers and helps to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It’s important for all employers to understand the laws and legislation surrounding these issues and take positive steps to uphold correct employment procedures.
Legislation such as Age Discrimination Act 2004, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of various protected attributes including:
- Intersex status
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
What is discrimination at work?
Discrimination at work can take many forms and can include overlooking particular candidates for vacancies or promotions based on the reasons above. It can also involve treating individuals less favourably than others or, in more extreme cases, bullying or harassing them.
Anti discrimination laws are in place to make sure that everybody feels safe and respected at work, regardless of their gender identity, race, sex or sexual orientation, age or disability status. It also ensures that everybody is treated equally and has access to the same opportunities and career progression pathways, regardless of factors such as race or gender.
Ensuring that you have a diverse and inclusive workplace is therefore not just about recruiting people from various backgrounds and walks of life. It’s about creating a safe and supportive environment for all of your current and future employees. To truly eliminate discrimination at work, employers must embrace diversity and inclusion as a permanent cultural shift.
Types of discrimination in the workplace
All types of discrimination generally fall into the following categories.
Where an employer treats an employee less favourably than another because of one of the reasons listed above. For example, if an employer will only consider male applicants for a labouring job and therefore rejects all female candidates.
Where a rule or condition of employment works against a specific group of people. For example, insisting on a young, dynamic candidate might restrict applications to people of a certain age group.
An employer may be able to make a genuine case for restricting the applications to a specific group. For example, if the role involves serving alcohol, the applicant must be over 18.
Harassment and victimisation
This includes intimidating or offensive behaviour, racist or sexist language or making someone a victim of fewer opportunities.
How to prevent discrimination in recruitment
As recruiters and hiring managers, we should all be doing our part regarding promoting diversity in the workplace. But driving inclusion in the workplace isn’t just about doing what’s right on a moral level — it’s also a legal requirement to avoid discriminatory actions in the recruitment process. If a candidate feels that they’ve been discriminated against in their job application, they may be able to make an employment tribunal case against the employer.
There is now a non-negotiable importance placed on workplace diversity meaning that knowing how to prevent discrimination and understanding what promoting diversity actually looks like in day to day recruitment is an essential part of your job as a hiring manager or recruiter.
Job description/person spec
In the interest of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, job descriptions or specifications should not contain any personal requirements that are not related to the job.
It’s unlawful to state that candidates should be of a specific age, gender, religion, and race etc if these things are not an occupational requirement. Equally, a job advert must not suggest an employer’s reluctance to take on an employee who has or has had a disability. It’s also best practice to avoid words and phrases that are suggestive of a certain age range. Publications who publish discriminatory job adverts can also be held liable.
Health and disability queries
In accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, an employer cannot ask a potential candidate to disclose any mental or physical disability.
To avoid discrimination at work, only ask for the minimum, relevant personal details in an application form. It is good practice to save questions about personal characteristics for the diversity monitoring form which is separate from the main application. An employer may want to check whether an applicant needs special requirements should they reach an interview stage, for example, due to mobility issues. If a disabled candidate requests the application form in a more accessible format, you should endeavour to provide this where possible.
As with the application process, the same rules apply with regard to asking personal questions and queries on health and disability. If a candidate is selected for an interview and they have notified you of a disability, you should make every effort to accommodate their needs.
Should you need to justify a recruitment decision, you should keep an accurate record of the process.
How to prevent discrimantion in the workplace
While being respectful and kind to all employees sounds easy and obvious, many companies will need to actively prioritise a cultural change in order to completely eliminate discrimination from the workplace. Making sure that no employees feel harassed, bullied or overlooked for promotions is easy to say, but actually achieving that requires a proactive approach.
Make a written anti discrimination policy
Make sure that all employees understand what is and isn’t acceptable by putting it in writing. Your policy should include clear rules and procedures for staff to follow. It should also outline a robust system for reporting instances of harassment and discrimination as well as how these complaints should be dealt with. In the event that someone does feel discriminated against or harassed, they should have a safe and confidential way to report the issue without having to worry about the repercussions.
Provide management training
Not all managers are born with great people skills. For many, it’s something that needs to be taught and nurtured. Providing frequent soft skills training for managers will help make sure that your employees feel safe and heard, and it will equip senior staff with the right skills and information to deal with any potential issues or complaints with compassion and sensitivity.
Educate your employees (and yourself)
As much as we’d like to think that we’re self-aware and understanding of others, we all have our blind spots and bad habits. The world is changing and we are all continuously learning about the impact our behaviours and actions can have on others (even if it’s unintentional).
Making sure that your entire workforce is properly educated about diversity, inclusion and preventing discrimination is key. Providing annual or even quarterly training about diversity and inclusion will go a long way in helping you to prevent discrimination and create a happier and more productive workplace.
Discrimination at work needs to be addressed
As a society, we all have a part to play in preventing discrimination in the workplace, but if we don’t uphold these standards in the recruitment process, we are failing at the very first hurdle. Understanding and adhering to the latest legislation regarding discrimination at work is important, not only for ensuring diversity and inclusion but also for safeguarding your company against legal action.
However, the battle against discrimination doesn’t end once a candidate signs on the dotted line. In order to truly embrace diversity and inclusion, employers must actively seek out ways to improve their company culture and procedures. By taking a good, hard look at your actions, company culture and procedures, you can begin to make changes that improve diversity and inclusion as well as morale and productivity.
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