Workwise - equal opportunity reporting amendments

Articles Written by Ruveni Kelleher (Partner)

On 6 December 2012 the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendments Act 2012 came into effect. The legislation imposes new obligations on employers in reporting employee and board gender composition, pay equity and flexible work arrangements.

What are the main changes?

Names - the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999will be replaced by the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012. The relevant agency will change its name from the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

Coverage - extends coverage of the legislation to ensure gender equality for men as well as women. In addition, employers who are not required to report under the legislation can obtain advice from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency about gender equality in their workplaces.

Report Content - the reports will have to be signed by the CEO and will be required to address the following gender equality indicators: workforce gender composition; gender composition of boards (or other governing bodies); equalremuneration between men and women; the availability of conditions and practices regarding flexible working arrangements for employees, including those with family or caring responsibilities; employee consultation on workplacegender equality; and any other matters specified in an instrument made by the Minister.

Programs - employers are no longer required to develop and implement a workplace program aimed at eliminating discrimination against women in employment and report on that program annually.

Minimum standards - to be introduced by regulation or other legislative instrument before 1 April 2014 and be applicable in and from the 2014-15 reporting year. If a report does not meet a minimum standard and does not improve against it within a further two year reporting period, the employer will not comply with the legislation. The earliest time this can occur is the 2016-2017 reporting period.

Notification and access - requires the employer to inform employees and members or shareholders that the report has been lodged and how it can be accessed as soon as practicable after lodgement. Within 7 days of lodgement unions whose members are employed by the employer must be informed that the report has been lodged. Employers are also required to tell employees and their unions that they have the opportunityto comment on the report. 

Sanctions - employers who fail to comply with their notification and access obligations, fail to have reports signed by their CEO, provide false or misleading information or fail to improve against minimum standards may be subjected to sanctions. The current sanctions will also be extended to enable the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to name non-complying employers by electronic or other means, for example on the Agency's website and in newspapers.

What stays the same?

Who is affected - the employers required to report under the legislation stays the same - all non-public sector employers with 100 or more employees and higher education employers. If an employer drops below the 100-employee threshold, the new requirements will continue to apply until the umber of employees employed drop below 80.

Timing - the reporting timing requirements remain the same - the reporting period is 1 April to 31 March each year and the reports are due between 1 April and 31 May of each year. However, the new obligations will be phased in over two years as follows:

  • In the 2012-2013 reporting period, employers are required to lodge a report comprising a workplace profile under the current legislation and comply with the new notification and access requirements.
  • In the 2013-2014 reporting period and after, employers will be required to comply with the new legislation in full.

Information requests - the Agency can still request information from employers to assess compliance and employers must comply with such requests.

Same sanctions - the current sanction of naming non-compliant employers in the Agency's reports which are tabled in Parliament will continue. In addition non-compliant employers may not be eligible to compete for Federal Governments contracts and may not be eligible for Commonwealth grants or other financial assistance.

What needs to be done now?

Reports for the reporting period from 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013 must be prepared by relevant employers for lodgement by 31 May 2013.

Procedures should be developed to ensure compliance with the new notification and access obligations for the reports lodged in 2013. In addition, to ensure compliance with the new legislation in their 2013-2014 reports, employers should take the following steps now:

  • review their workforce gender composition and the gender composition of their board to determine whether any steps need to be taken to improve gender equality;
  • review remuneration differences between men and women within their organisation to determine whether any steps need to be taken in 2013 remuneration reviews to improve gender equality;
  • review policies regarding flexible working arrangements for employees, including those with family or caring responsibilities; and
  • implement frameworks for employee consultation on workplace gender equality which includes men and women.

 

Important Disclaimer: The material contained in this article is comment of a general nature only and is not and nor is it intended to be advice on any specific professional matter. In that the effectiveness or accuracy of any professional advice depends upon the particular circumstances of each case, neither the firm nor any individual author accepts any responsibility whatsoever for any acts or omissions resulting from reliance upon the content of any articles. Before acting on the basis of any material contained in this publication, we recommend that you consult your professional adviser. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation (Australia-wide except in Tasmania).

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