> Know your responsibilities
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 came into effect on 1 August 2011, replacing the Equal Opportunity Act 1995. The new law makes it easier for people to understand their rights and responsibilities. This guide will help you understand one important aspect of the new law – the positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. It is important for people in your organisation to know about the positive duty and understand how it works. Complying with the positive duty will help you stop discrimination before it occurs and will take us a step closer to creating equality of opportunity for everyone in Victoria. Discrimination is treating, or proposing to treat, someone unfavourably or bullying them because of a personal characteristic protected by law, such as sex, race, age or disability. Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. Sexual harassment can be physical, spoken or written. Victimisation is subjecting, or threatening to subject, someone to a detriment because they asserted their rights under equal opportunity law, made a complaint, helped someone else make a complaint, or refused to do something because it would be discrimination, sexual harassment or victimisation.
Who does the positive duty apply to?
The positive duty applies to everyone who already has responsibilities under the Equal Opportunity Act. It applies to employers and people who provide accommodation, education, and goods and services. It also applies to clubs and sporting organisations, to government, and to people in business and the community sector.
What is the positive duty?
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 introduces a positive duty requiring all organisations covered by the law – including government, business, employers and service providers – to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible. Instead of allowing organisations to simply react to complaints of discrimination when they happen, the Act requires them to be proactive about discrimination and take steps to prevent discriminatory practices. For example, by making sure your premises and services are accessible to people with a range of disabilities. This positive duty is about addressing the systemic causes of discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. Just like occupational health and safety laws require employers to take appropriate steps to improve their systems, policies and practices so injuries don’t occur, the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 requires duty holders to take appropriate steps to prevent discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation from occurring. The positive duty in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 spells out a principle that was always behind the aims of our equal opportunity laws.
The positive duty in practice: Nordom*
Ben is the manager of Nordom, a financial institution employing 80 people. To prepare for the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, he reviews customer satisfaction surveys and complaints, and audits Nordom’s training materials, policies and practices. Nordom has never received a discrimination complaint but customer feedback shows that people with a disability have trouble accessing Nordom’s services. People with wheelchairs cannot reach the information brochures in the foyer and the font used in promotional materials is too small for people with vision impairments. In addition, despite receiving numerous loan applications by recently-settled migrants, few are approved because staff find it difficult to interact with people who speak little English. Nordom updates its policies, introduces training for all staff on equal opportunity, disability and cross-cultural awareness, and adjusts its publications so that information on its services is more accessible. These