New federal laws to prevent discrimination against gay, lesbian and intersex people may force employers to revisit their anti-discrimination training and policies.

Earlier this month, the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status Act 2012 (Cth) (SDA Amendment Act) came into effect, inserting new grounds into the existing Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Most states and territories have existing laws to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but this amendment strengthens the existing laws and provides scope for the Australian Human Right Commission to accept complaints concerning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The amendment also extends the definition of “marital status” to “marital or relationship status” to include de facto same-sex couples.

Gender and sexuality can be complex and sensitive areas to navigate in the workplace. As a general rule, sexual preference and gender identity should be factored into your anti-discrimination training and policies.

In particular, think carefully about indirect discrimination – where established policies or processes may inadvertently discriminate against employees with same-sex partners or those who identify as intersex. As examples, spousal rights and benefits and parental leave provisions are some of the most common areas where gay, lesbian and bisexual employees may be discriminated against. Records management processes and provision of bathrooms can cause problems for intersex employees.

How should employers proceed? Take a sensitive, consultative approach and ensure employees feel comfortable discussing their individual needs. Fair treatment of all employees is the primary goal, so avoid drawing unnecessary attention to individual differences.

It is also important that all employees, including management, receive appropriate anti-discrimination training to ensure awareness of appropriate workplace behaviour and to equip staff with the knowledge and skills to deal with any issues. Providing anti-discrimination training will also help your organisation to show preventative measures have been taken should any complaints arise.

Recent articles

Balance of probailities

Understanding Balance of Probabilities in Workplace Investigations

Author - John Boardman, Director Workplace Relations The more serious the allegation, the more serious consideration should be given by...
Remote or isolated work

The impact of poor support on remote and isolated workers: Summary of the webinar

Remote and isolated work encompasses more than just working in a home setting; it taps into the narrative of employees...
Reasonable management.

What isn’t Workplace Bullying? Reasonable Management.

Article updated on 15 April 2024 [Originally published in 2017] Workplace bullying is an organisational problem. It can happen in...
Trauma informed investigations

Trauma-informed workplace investigations: Prioritising ‘care’ over rigid processes

Interviewee: Kirsten Hartmann, Senior Workplace Relations Adviser/Workplace Investigator In August 2023, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released four guiding...