An organisation built on respect for people of different backgrounds, beliefs, attitudes, and equal opportunity is not only the right thing to do – it is also the law.
Discrimination in the workplace not only has a negative impact on people’s lives, it also impacts employee satisfaction and overall productivity. In New Zealand, there are equal opportunity laws to manage discrimination in the workplace.
The Human Rights Act 1993 (HRA) and the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA) help to ensure all workplaces are safe and fair. Both acts cover the many forms of discrimination in regards to sexual harassment, employment, and unjust treatment in the workplace. While the policies mainly protect employees they also go beyond to protect job applicants, contractors and people associated with them such as friends, family and carers.
In New Zealand, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their:
• Sex or sexual orientation
• Race or skin colour
• Marital status
• Physical or mental disability
• Family or carer’s responsibility
• Religion or political opinion
• National extraction or social origin
The Human Rights Commission is an organisation that promotes and protects the human rights of all people in New Zealand. It works under the Human Rights Act 1993 to lead, evaluate, monitor and advise on all matters regarding equal employment opportunities.
Under the HRA 1993, if an individual believes they have not been given equal opportunity in the workplace, they can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission for advice and support – all of which are free, flexible and confidential.
If a complaint is not resolved through their usual process, the case may be taken to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.
As an employer, there is a clear duty of care to prevent discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace. Waiting for a complaint is not an excuse for inaction and failure to respond in a reasonable manner can result in serious penalties.
Different companies and industries will have their own approach to giving people equal opportunities at work. How employers respond to discrimination will depend on their business:
• The size, nature and circumstances of the business
• Available resources
• Business and operational priorities
• How practical and costly the measures are
Even if a complaint is not lodged, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission may investigate cases of discrimination, harassment or victimisation. They will investigate the circumstances and decide whether you have taken positive action or not to prevent the particular act or give proper equal opportunity.
When it comes to replacing employees who leave or employing people for new positions, employers have a responsibility to give all candidates an equal opportunity. If an employee believes they have been unlawfully discriminated against during the hiring process, they can lodge a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.
Based on equal opportunity laws, an employer cannot discriminate against an applicant based on any of the prohibited grounds specified in the act. For example, employers cannot ask applicants about their sexual orientation or preference, age, religious or political beliefs. These factors are not relevant to someone’s ability to perform a job.
These rules apply to every aspect of the hiring process including job advertisements, application forms, job offers and interviews.
Just like all workplace policies, it is important to have a written policy that covers the priority placed on equal opportunities within the business. This should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes to legislation or company culture.
Besides having a written policy, employers should be sure none of the other policies, procedures or training programs could be interpreted as discriminatory. For example, have procedures giving disabled employees access to reasonable work accommodation.
These written policies should be clearly communicated to new and existing employees in order to prevent miscommunication, and to promote the emphasis placed on equal opportunity within the business.
Employsure can help manage equal opportunity programs at work and reduce discrimination. For peace of mind, please call our day and night Advice Line now on 0800 675 700.