The Workplace Gender Equality Act was passed in 2012 and replaced the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999. It seeks to promote and improve gender equality in the workplace and in employment generally. The legislation creates a statutory body to support employers to work towards eliminating discrimination on the basis of gender in employment and to review their compliance with the act. The act seeks to promote consultation between employers and employees about gender equality issues. It requires relevant employers to report annually on their performance in relation to various gender equality indicators and aims to improve Australian businesses by advancing gender equality.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency
The act establishes the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which has various powers and functions under Section 10. Essentially, the agency exists to promote and improve gender equality in Australian workplaces. It reviews compliance with the act by relevant employers and assists and supports them to achieve its purposes. It also reports to the minister on the effectiveness of the act in achieving its targets.
If an employer is failing to comply with the act by meeting a minimum standard, the agency may publicly name the employer and outline its failure. However, before doing so, the agency must give the employer notice of its intention to name the employer and give it the opportunity to make written representations within a specified period of not less than 28 days. The agency must also offer the employer assistance in meeting the standard.
Reports by relevant employers
A relevant employer is an employer that employs more than 100 employees in Australia or an employer that is a registered higher education provider (Section 3).
Relevant employers must prepare reports on their performance annually covering:
- The gender composition of their staff;
- The gender composition of their governing bodies;
- Equal remuneration between women and men;
- The availability of flexible work arrangements to employees;
- Consultation with employees on issues concerning workplace gender equality;
Relevant employers comply with the act if they do the following:
- Lodge a report on time each year;
- Meet the minimum standard or if they fail to meet it, make improvements towards it by the end of two further reporting periods.
- Comply with the notification and access requirements;
- Gives the Agency information to review compliance upon request;
- Do not give false or misleading information.
Minimum standards for relevant employers apply to specific relevant employers with 500 or more employees. For example, employers with 500 or more employees are required to have a formal policy in relation to the gender composition of the workforce, equal remuneration between the sexes or the availability of flexible working arrangements. Relevant employers with fewer than 500 employees may also be required to meet the minimum standards if they are part of a corporate structure with a total number of more than 500 employees.
How to set targets
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has a guide for employers to use, which sets out how to set and meet gender diversity targets in the workplace. The guide outlines the reasons that gender equality in the workplace matters, including to improve business performance, to provide equal opportunity to job seekers and to comply with federal legislation. It suggests employers should work towards their gender equality targets by setting clear and realistic targets, measuring progress in small steps and holding managers accountable. It reminds employers to factor in expected changes to the size of the organisation and possible changes to the organisational structure. It also suggests thoroughly analysing what the company is currently doing well and what is holding it back, reviewing employee turnover and recruitment patterns for each gender and establishing a timeframe for achieving targets.
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