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Changes to Race Discrimination Act – are workplaces safe?

3 April 2014

Do proposed changes to the Race Discrimination Act highlight the changing face of "acceptable behaviour"?

The exposure draft released by the Attorney General which contains changes to the Race Discrimination Act has been the subject of extensive debate across the public and political domains.

The changes proposed seek to amend the Act by removing reference to behaviour which is reasonably likely to offend, insult or humiliate, and inserting the word "vilify" while keeping "intimidate".

The definition given to intimidation focuses on physical harm while the definition of "vilify" describes it as "to incite hatred against a person or group".

The concerns which have been voiced from a number of quarters stem from this change plus the widening of what could be considered exempt behaviour. Under the proposed bill, statements made during a public discussion of any "political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter" would be exempt. This has given rise to concerns that almost any behaviour could be covered, making it difficult for those experiencing racist abuse to be truly protected by the Act.

For now, the controversially named Freedom of Speech Bill 2014 remains an exposure draft open for public consultation.

However, this begs the question of what we consider acceptable and how and when a person may be entitled to express an opinion which may be offensive to others. In a workplace, employers have a duty of care to their employees and must provide a safe workplace. This means employers should endeavour to ensure the workplace is free from bullying, harassment and discrimination as these behaviours involve risk of harm, including psychological harm.

 Anti-discrimination and bullying training iHR Australia 3.4.14

This clip shows one type of behaviour which could happen in a workplace creating a risk to health and safety. It is imperative that employers protect employees with robust policies and by providing training about this type of conduct, ensuring that employees and managers are aware of their rights and responsibilities regarding workplace behaviour.

The clip shown is featured in our online anti-bullying, harassment and discrimination training which is offered as online modules at manager and worker levels and also forms part of our blended learning solutions. A blended learning solution is a combination of face to face and online training tailored to suit your organisation.

Organisations may choose blended learning in order to benefit from iHR's unique Workplace Reality Theatre methodology, where training is brought to life by actors, and to also utilise the accessibility of online learning for selected participants. All content and scenarios featured in online workplace training are developed using the same principles as our face to face training, in order to maximise engagement and knowledge retention.

For more information about workplace training delivered face to face, online or as a blended learning solution call 1300 884 687 or make an online enquiry.

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