Overview of employer rights and responsibilities
All employers have the right to appoint and dismiss workers in accordance with proper procedures and to expect reasonable performance from their employees.
However, employers do not have the right to discriminate against existing or potential employees.
The Act establishes a legal responsibility on employers to provide workplaces free from discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification. All employers need to therefore take reasonable steps to prevent or minimise these behaviours in the workplace. Reasonable steps might include the implementation of appropriate policies and practices, training and education of staff and the establishment of grievance and complaint procedures. The law does not define ‘reasonable steps’ because what is reasonable in one workplace might not be reasonable in another.
Employers must not allow workers to be discriminated against, sexually harassed or subjected to vilification by other workers, clients or management. If they do they can be held legally liable. This means that the employer can ultimately be held responsible for the behaviour of their employees, and therefore need to be proactive in education staff about their responsibilities and standards of behaviour that are acceptable in the workplace.
Employers also have the right to take appropriate action against any employee who might be engaging in this type of conduct while at work. Such action might include formal staff counselling, disciplinary procedures and, in serious cases, dismissal.
Exemptions to the Anti-Discrimination Act
The Act lists some exemptions, or exceptions to the law, which outline some circumstances where the Act may not apply.
It is also to apply for an exemption to the Act through a tribunal ruling. For work-related matters, the tribunal is the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC), and for all other matters, the tribunal is the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).
Preventing discrimination and sexual harassment
By taking simple steps, employers can prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace, as well as saving time, money and maintaining a good reputation. Having a safe, diverse and equitable workplace can also improve staff relations and customer satisfaction.
There are six easy steps employers can take to prevent workplace issues:
- Create and maintain clear policies that promote a safe working environment and equality of opportunity for all staff.
- Ensure clear support and promotion of these policies by executive management.
- Provide ongoing training of new and existing staff on the policies.
- Provide fair, transparent, quick, simple and effective internal complaints mechanisms to address any breaches of the policies.
- Appoint a staff member as an Equity Contact Officer to provide confidential and impartial information to staff about the policies and complaint processes.
- Ensure continuous and consistent review and evolution of policies, training and complaints mechanisms.
Information on all these steps, as well as resources including sample policies, can be found in our Employer Toolkit (PDF File, 1.5 MB) .
Equity Contact Officers
The appointment and support of the Equity Contact Officer is an indication of an employer's commitment to take incidents of discrimination and harassment seriously. It also assists management to discharge its responsibilities under the vicarious liability provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.
Equity Contact Officers (ECOs) provide assistance to staff who are subjected to discrimination and harassment and support management in the prevention and elimination of such behaviour in the workplace.
The objective of having ECOs is to:
- raise staff awareness on harassment issues;
- educate staff on options available;
- facilitate early resolution of incidents of discrimination or harassment;
- provide a safe environment for staff to express concerns in a confidential manner;
- make recommendations to management about ways to prevent further incidents;
- assist in promoting a workplace free from discrimination and harassment.
While the Equity Contact Officer role is not defined in law it can be identified as a reasonable step to manage and prevent unacceptable workplace behaviours.
Equity Contact Officers can often be referred to as Contact Officers, Discrimination and Harassment Contact Officers, Equity and Diversity Contact Officers or a variety of other titles, depending on the workplace.
A sample role description is included in our Employer Toolkit. Download our Employer Toolkit (PDF File, 1.5 MB)
Benefits of diverse and inclusive workplaces
Workplace diversity means creating an inclusive environment that accepts each individual's differences, embraces their strengths and provides opportunities for all staff to achieve their full potential.
Valuing difference allows each person to contribute their unique experiences to the workplace and can impact positively on not only internal activities and relationships, but the experiences of customers and other stakeholders as well.
Equal opportunity principles and practices make good business sense. The benefits include improved productivity, smoother workplace relations with less conflict and disruption, reduced staff turnover, enhanced workplace and market diversity, better client service delivery, decreased training costs and minimised legal liability and costs.
It also provides opportunities to enhance a corporate image as a responsible employer and to more effectively use the diverse skills and experience of staff. Client responses to diverse non-discriminatory workplaces are often positive and may lead to market loyalty, enhancing continuity and profit.
Tips for creating a diverse workplace
- Discuss diversity with your employees, highlighting the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workplace.
- Identify and address any unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion that may be preventing particular groups of people from joining or staying at your workplace.
- Value individual skills that employees bring, including language skills and international experience that may help to broaden your market and business connections.
- Ensure flexible work options are available to all staff, including comprehensive parental leave policies for both men and women.
- Be aware of different cultural practices and special needs of employees and make workplace adjustments where appropriate.
- Take steps to prevent discrimination and harassment in your workplace.