Are you prepared for the new workplace gender equality requirements?

by DLA Piper
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[co-author: Mandi Xu]

If your organisation has 100 or more employees, unless it is a public sector employer, it will have annual gender reporting obligations to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (Agency) under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth) (WGE Act).

The introduction of the WGE Act brought about significant changes to the Agency and introduced more onerous requirements than that previously existed under the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (Cth) (EOWW Act).

Current reporting requirements

Employers covered by the WGE Act are currently required to complete and submit an annual report to the Agency (Report), which is comprised of the following:

  • A workplace profile that shows the gender composition of their workforce by employment status, occupational categories of managers and non-managers, and management levels from the CEO (or equivalent). Remuneration data of managers and non-managers for each of those categories must also be provided in the workplace profile.
  • A reporting questionnaire that provides information on specific matters relating to the six gender equality indicators (GEIs) listed below:
    1. Gender composition of the workforce
    2. Gender composition of governing bodies of relevant employers
    3. Equal remuneration between women and men
    4. 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
    5. Consultation with employees on issues concerning gender equality in the workplace, and
    6. Sex-based harassment and discrimination.

For the purposes of the WGE Act, 'employees' includes full-time, part-time and casual employees, and employees of any subsidiary.

Where an employer covered by the WGE Act experiences a reduction in the number of employees, the employer must continue to meet its reporting obligations until employee numbers drop below 80.

Reports must be submitted online between 1 April and 31 May each year, and will contain information relating to the preceding 12 month period commencing from 1 April.

Additional reporting requirements

The reporting requirements of the WGE Act have been gradually phased in. Additional reporting requirements relating to GEIs 1, 3 and 4 (listed above) were intended to be implemented on 1 April 2014, which would have made this the first year in which the enhanced reporting requirements were fully operational. However, the Government announced in March 2014 its decision to delay the introduction of those additional reporting requirements by one year to allow for further consultation after stakeholders raised concerns. Importantly, this delay does not affect the existing reporting requirements.

When the additional reporting requirements take effect on 1 April 2015, relevant organisations will also need to report on various additional matters including job applicants, promotions, resignations, and policies or measures to support employees experiencing family or domestic violence.

Minimum standards for gender equality

From 1 October 2014, organisations with 500 or more employees will have an additional obligation under the WGE Act, which is to meet the new minimum standards for gender equality.

The Government has introduced these minimum standards to encourage progress by large organisations towards achieving gender equality in their workplace.

Organisations required to comply with these standards must have in place polices or strategies that support at least one of the GEIs listed below and must achieve the objective corresponding to the relevant GEI: 

Relevant GEIs          Corresponding objective

GEI 1                      Supporting gender equality in the workplace

GEI 3                      In relation to employees, equal remuneration between female and male employee

GEI 4                      Flexible working arrangements for employees with caring responsibilities

GEI 6                      Sex-based harassment and discrimination prevention strategies in the workplace

What are the consequences of non-compliance with the minimum standards?

If the new minimum standards are not met by a relevant organisation:

  • The Agency must offer the organisation advice and assistance in relation to improving their performance against those standards.
  • The organisation will have a further two years to improve against those minimum standards before the Agency may deem them to be non-compliant. 

Where an organisation fails to comply with the reporting requirements under the WGE Act or is deemed non-compliant with the minimum standards, the consequences remain essentially the same as those under the previous EOWW Act, namely that:

  • The organisation may be named by the Agency in a report to the Minister or some other means (for example, on the Agency’s website).
  • The organisation may be precluded from tendering for Commonwealth and some state contracts, or from receiving Commonwealth grants or other financial assistance.

What does this means for your organisation?

If your organisation is covered by the WGE Act, you should:

  • Prepare and file a report complying with your obligations for each reporting period.
  • Notify your employees, relevant unions and shareholders that your report to the Agency has been lodged and make a copy of the report available to them.
  • Inform your employees and relevant unions that they have an opportunity to comment on the report to either your organisation or the Agency.
  • In light of the additional reporting requirements coming in the next reporting year, consider whether any gaps exist in your organisation's existing data collection and reporting systems and processes, and ensure any necessary modifications to those systems and processes are made before 1 April 2015.
  • (if applicable) Develop and implement policies, strategies and systems for your organisation with respect to one or more of the relevant GEIs in preparation for the new minimum standards coming into effect on 1 October 2014, and consider your organisation’s progress in achieving the objective(s) corresponding to those selected GEI(s).

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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