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Amendments to Aussie Federal Discrimination Law in the Workplace

discrimination law 10282013After the amendment by the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, the legislation now states that it is now unlawful to discriminate against people on the basis of gender identity, intersex status and sexual orientation or relationship status which include employment.

So what are the amendments?

The Australian federal law only restricts discrimination against persons on the issues of marital status, sex and pregnancy, despite gender identity and sexual orientation already being protected under the State discrimination legislation in some Australian states.

The influx of three new rules of discrimination like intersex status, gender identity and sexual orientation, widen the shield of protection against discrimination and to secure the consistency between the federal law and the State. The wider coverage of the present ground of "marital status" to "marital or relationship status" now encompasses the protection to same-sex relationships.

The key amendments to the Act that became effective as of 01 August 2013 have the following identified changes:

(1) Allowing voluntary bodies, sporting bodies and religious organisations to be not included from discrimination against people according to new grounds in some circumstances.

(2) States that is not prohibited by law to ask for information or to keep records that does not provide for an individual to be identified as being female or male. There should be no requirement to be an alternative "female" or "male" when a collection of data is being made.

(3) To make sure religious organisations that render Commonwealth funded aged care services are not capable or refuse entry to, thus discriminate against LGBTI individuals. Religious groups are still exempt from discrimination, when the issue is about employing workers to render aged care services.

The Act likewise emphasise that the changes in the legislation do not impact the existing policies of the Australian government regarding same sex marriage. The Australian Human Rights Commission has recognised this change as "steps closer to full equality".

And so what do these mean to Australian employers?

For the majority of Australian employers, the most relevant is the introduction of new grounds of discrimination. Simply, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate an individual in terms of offering jobs, identifying the terms and conditions, and access to job opportunities related to transfer/promotion, termination or training. They have the responsibility to ensure that workplace policies and procedures are in place, explaining what unlawful discrimination involves on the basis of intersex status, gender identity, sexual orientation and marital/relationship status.

Employers were also urged to ensure that workers assuming managerial positions are well informed and up-to-date with the amendments, as a matter of priority. They must know their obligations as dictated in the Act. The Australian Human Rights Commission can conciliate and investigate employee complaints about discrimination on the basis of these new grounds. Managers need to be keen of this workplace risk when making decisions or if doing correspondence for internal grievances that affect the entire organisation.

Employers must also compile information about these new grounds and the amendments made to the Act that are relevant to their business or organisation. Put it in a training kit where appropriate and share the amendment to workers during meetings or through email to make them aware of the policies and changes.

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