Equal oppor­tu­ni­ty for women in the work­place — report­ing oblig­a­tions of employers

In brief — Impor­tance of com­pli­ance with EOWA Act

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is seri­ous about pro­mot­ing equal oppor­tu­ni­ty for women in the work­place. Employ­ers need to com­ply with the Equal Oppor­tu­ni­ty for Women in the Work­place Act 1999 (EOWA Act).

Renewed focus on equal opportunity

The high­ly pub­li­cised sex­u­al harass­ment dis­pute involv­ing retail giant David Jones and Kristy Fras­er-Kirk has refo­cused pub­lic atten­tion through­out Aus­tralia on the impor­tance of pro­mot­ing equal oppor­tu­ni­ty for women in the work­place. Employ­ers need to be aware of their oblig­a­tions under the EOWA Act. 

Main fea­tures of the Act

The EOWA Act cov­ers all pri­vate sec­tor organ­i­sa­tions, includ­ing com­pa­nies, sole traders and unin­cor­po­rat­ed asso­ci­a­tions which employ 100 or more employ­ees in Aus­tralia, or which have employed 100 or more employ­ees at any time since 1 April 2001. Even if the organ­i­sa­tion has sub­se­quent­ly reduced its work­force to less than 100 employ­ees, it is still cov­ered by the EOWA Act.

The Act requires such organ­i­sa­tions to devel­op and imple­ment work­place pro­grams deal­ing with the pro­mo­tion of equal oppor­tu­ni­ty for women in the work­place. They must also sub­mit annu­al reports on or before 31 May to the Equal Oppor­tu­ni­ty for Women in the Work­place Agency (EOWA).

Work­place pro­gram devel­op­ment and imple­men­ta­tion obligations

The pri­ma­ry oblig­a­tion imposed under the Act is to devel­op and imple­ment a work­place pro­gram which pro­motes equal oppor­tu­ni­ty for women in the work­force. The guide­lines for devel­op­ing a work­place pro­gram pro­mot­ing equal oppor­tu­ni­ty for women can be down­loaded from the EOWA web­site.

The guide­lines out­line the fol­low­ing key steps:

  • Link your work­place pro­gram inte­gral­ly with­in your organ­i­sa­tion’s busi­ness strat­e­gy and imple­ment ini­tia­tives close­ly aligned with busi­ness priorities
  • Assign respon­si­bil­i­ty for the work­place pro­gram to a senior and influ­en­tial employee
  • At the begin­ning of the report­ing peri­od (1 April), pre­pare a work­place pro­file which focus­es on the ratio of women to men in the work­place over­all, for each occu­pa­tion and for each employ­ment type (e.g. women rep­re­sent 44% of the work­force but only rep­re­sent 21% in full-time senior posi­tions, 80% casu­al cler­i­cal posi­tions, etc)
  • Analyse your organ­i­sa­tion’s work­place by gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion through con­sul­ta­tion with employ­ees to iden­ti­fy the prob­lems for women in the work­place (e.g. poor rate of return from parental leave, lack of female recruits, sig­nif­i­cant occu­pa­tion­al seg­re­ga­tion, sex-based harass­ment etc)
  • Pri­ori­tise the iden­ti­fied issues
  • Dur­ing the report­ing peri­od (1 April to 31 March), take rel­e­vant action to address the most urgent problems
  • At the end of the report­ing peri­od, eval­u­ate the effec­tive­ness of these actions and plan your organ­i­sa­tion’s actions for the fol­low­ing year
EOWA report­ing obligations

In order to ensure com­pli­ance with the pri­ma­ry oblig­a­tion of devel­op­ing and imple­ment­ing work­place pro­grams, the Act oblig­es employ­ers to report annu­al­ly to EOWA. A stan­dard form for com­plet­ing these reports can be down­loaded from the EOWA web­site.

The report­ing guide­lines pre­pared by EOWA out­line the fol­low­ing inte­gral steps:

  1. Set out the details of your organ­i­sa­tion in the cov­er sheet (name, major busi­ness activ­i­ties, Aus­tralian & NZ Stan­dard Indus­tri­al Clas­si­fi­ca­tion etc).
  2. Out­line your organ­i­sa­tion’s work­place pro­file by answer­ing the key ques­tions — how many men and women work in the organ­i­sa­tion, the type of occu­pa­tions that men and women are engaged in and their employ­ment category.
  3. Iden­ti­fy the prob­lems for women in your organ­i­sa­tion’s work­place, con­sid­er­ing what needs to be improved so that women can ful­fil their poten­tial in the work­place and tak­ing the fol­low­ing aspects into account

Recruit­ment and selection
Pro­mo­tion, trans­fer and termination
Train­ing and development
Work organisation
Con­di­tions of service
Arrange­ments for deal­ing with sex-based harassment
Arrange­ments for deal­ing with preg­nan­cy, poten­tial preg­nan­cy and breastfeeding

  1. Set out the pri­or­i­ty issues for women in the work­place that your organ­i­sa­tion intends to focus on over the next report­ing peri­od and the ratio­nale for pri­ori­tis­ing these issues.
  2. Out­line the spe­cif­ic actions that your organ­i­sa­tion pro­pos­es to take in the next report­ing peri­od to address these pri­or­i­ty issues (for exam­ple, pro­vid­ing flex­i­ble work options for women return­ing from parental leave).
  3. Eval­u­ate the effec­tive­ness of the actions your organ­i­sa­tion has already tak­en by con­sid­er­ing the events to date, the cur­rent stage of the imple­men­ta­tion process, the degree of suc­cess of the action and what your organ­i­sa­tion has learned that will assist in imple­ment­ing future actions.
  4. Set out your organisation’s planned actions for the next report­ing peri­od, build­ing on what has been achieved in the pre­vi­ous year.
Non-com­pli­ance with EOWA report­ing obligations

The fail­ure to com­ply with the manda­to­ry report­ing oblig­a­tions car­ries sig­nif­i­cant ram­i­fi­ca­tions for employ­ers, as they risk being named and shamed” by the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment in a report which is tabled in par­lia­ment and main­tained on the EOWA web­site. Employ­ers whose rev­enue is depen­dent on gov­ern­ment con­tracts have a fur­ther incen­tive for com­pli­ance with the Act, because those which are named as being non-com­pli­ant are not eli­gi­ble to ten­der for such con­tracts and will also be denied par­tic­u­lar forms of indus­try assistance.

Advice to employers

All employ­ers should be aware that if they cur­rent­ly employ 100 or more staff, or if they have employed this num­ber at any point since 1 April 2001, they are bound by the oblig­a­tions under the EOWA Act.

If your organ­i­sa­tion fits this pro­file, it must devel­op and imple­ment a work­place pro­gram in accor­dance with the steps out­lined above and lodge a report with EOWA by 31 May each year.

Employ­ers should also bear in mind that com­ply­ing with the for­mal require­ments of the EOWA Act is only the first step. As the case of David Jones demon­strates, the exis­tence of writ­ten poli­cies and lodge­ment of annu­al reports will not save an organ­i­sa­tion from law­suits and neg­a­tive pub­lic­i­ty if the behav­iour of indi­vid­u­als with­in it is at vari­ance with the stat­ed pol­i­cy.

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