Obligations to your staff
A workplace free from discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying is not just good for business, it is the law. Unlawful behaviour will cost you time and money, damage morale, reduce productivity and undermine your reputation. Organisations that understand their obligations towards staff will create a positive and healthy place to work, improving productivity and reputation.
Why does equal opportunity matter?
Employers have a vital role in making equal opportunity a reality for Victorians. We know this because the majority of complaints made to the Commission are about workplace behaviour.
As an employer, your responsibilities are set out in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.
The Commission can help you make sure you are meeting your obligations.
What are my obligations?
Employers have a responsibility to recruit staff in a non-discriminatory way and maintain a workplace that is safe and free from discrimination.
They also have a responsibility to make sure their workplace is safe and free from sexual harassment or victimisation.
While a person is responsible for their own unlawful behaviour, employers can also be held responsible.
Employers can be held legally responsible for workplace incidents of:
Employers also have responsibilities under federal anti-discrimination laws.
The positive duty
Equal opportunity is about more than just fixing issues as they arise. Genuine equal opportunity means creating an environment where unfair treatment and problem behaviour is unlikely to happen in the first place.
Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, organisations have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible. This means that positive action should be taken to prevent these behaviours – regardless of whether someone has made a complaint.
Victoria is unique in having a positive duty, which creates an opportunity to prevent unlawful behaviour. It helps organisations put a healthy workplace culture in place, just as occupational health and safety laws require employers to take appropriate steps to ensure injuries don’t occur.
To ensure they are complying with the positive duty, organisations should also put measures in place to ensure that complaints are responded to swiftly and appropriately when they do arise.
Meeting your positive duty towards staff might include:
- ensuring policies and procedures are in place and understood by staff
- training all staff on acceptable workplace behaviour
- making sure polices and procedures applied
- reducing workplace stressors and risks
- using inclusive leadership styles
- making sure leaders role model appropriate workplace behaviour and recognise inappropriate behaviour.
Who do my obligations apply to?
All stages of employment are covered by the Equal Opportunity Act, including:
- recruiting staff
- negotiating flexible work
- managing return to work after illness or parental leave
- making adjustments for disability
See our Employee rights and workplace hub for information about these topics and more.
Does the Charter apply?
The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act (the Charter) is a Victorian law that sets out the basic rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all people in Victoria. It is about the relationship between government and the people it serves.
The Charter requires public authorities, such as Victorian state and local government departments and agencies, and people delivering services on behalf of government, to act consistently with the human rights in the Charter.
If you work for a public authority you can find more about your responsibilities under the Charter in the For public sector section of our website.
How can the Commission help?
The Commission has a range of tools and services to help businesses, employers and organisations meet their responsibilities under the Equal Opportunity Act.
We provide tailored education services, including support to organisations to develop equality action plans.
We can carry out organisational reviews to strengthen policies, processes and systems to improve workplace safety.
Our reviews are suitable for organisations of all sizes and across all industries. We always tailor the size and scope of the work to meet an organisation’s needs and budget. We also have experience in major organisational review that reflects our expertise, for example see our Independent Review into sex discrimination and sexual harassment, including predatory behaviour, in Victoria Police.
We welcome calls from businesses, organisations and employers who would like more information about how we can help them meet their obligations under the Equal Opportunity Act.
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Human rights and equality courses
We are the experts in Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (2006), the Equal Opportunity Act (2010) and the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act (2021). Our courses can help you and your organisation develop, adopt and drive leading practice on equal opportunity and human rights, and prevent discrimination.