On the 6th of December 2012 the Workplace Gender Equality Act received royal assent, and will be phased in over the coming two years. Gender equality reporting requirements will undergo significant changes as a result of the Act for large private sector employers who have over 100 employees.
The requirement for employer’s to develop equal opportunity programs under the former Act has now been removed by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act, after being in place since 1999.
However a more stringent requirement is replacing it, requiring employers to report on ‘gender equality indicators’ which are defined in the Act as:
Gender composition of the workforce Gender composition of governing bodies of relevant employers Equal remuneration between women and men Availability and utility of employment terms, conditions and practices relating to flexible working arrangements for employees and to working arrangements supporting employees with family or caring responsibilities Consultation with employees on issues concerning gender equality in the workplace Matters specified in a legislative instrument by the Minister
After consultation with the agency, the Minister will boast broad powers for determining the reporting requirements based on the gender equality indicators listed above. The Minister has the authority to set industry specific minimum standards to achieve compliance, which is very important for employers.
Employers are also required to prepare a report, starting from the 2013/14 reporting cycle, providing their company details and their responses to gender equality indicator queries specified by the Minister. The report must include the period spanning 1st April to 31st March each year and they may be made public by the agency after submission, with the condition that no personal information or information regarding remuneration will be released. However, publication is permitted by the Act when the information is determined “as in an aggregated from and does not disclose, either directly or indirectly, information about a specific relevant employer or another specific person”.
There is also the requirement that employers must provide both employees and shareholders with access to the submitted reports. Employees and relevant unions must be notified when a report has been lodged and they must be given the chance to provide observations on the report.
Consultation by the Government with stakeholders on issues regarding the Act ceased on the 29th of January 2013. Once the minimum standards are set sometime before the 1st April 2014, law firms will be given two years to comply. If there is non-compliance, they will be exposed to the agency’s ‘name and shame power’.
The ‘name and shame’ power will be given to the agency in regards to non-compliant employers. They are able to publish the names of the employers and the details of their noncompliance in print media, reports or online. However before this can occur, employers will be informed by the agency of this proposal, and be given the opportunity to respond. Advice and assistance must also be offered by the agency to the employers who have failed to comply with the minimum standards.
It was reported in December 2012, by Lawyers Weekly, that there is only 20% of partners in Australian Law Firms that are women. It was also reported that four in ten female lawyers that were surveyed had experienced discrimination. The Acts effectiveness in addressing discrimination and lack of diversity in the legal profession is highly dependent on the attitudes of those who are reporting and of the agency in enforcing compliance with it.
If you need some legal advice in relation to your obligations, or you feel that you have been discriminated based on your gender, please telephone one of our friendly Gold Coast Lawyers on 5563 8970 to book a complimentary initial consultation at Affinity Lawyers.