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Affirmative Action & OHS Law Update

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Current federal affirmative action laws require employers with 100 or more employees to establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in the organisation.  This involves the appointment of an appropriate manager and satisfying annual reporting requirements.  Once an employer reaches the size of employing 100 employees, the affirmative action laws will continue to apply until employee numbers decrease to less than 80.

Non-compliant employers are named publicly in Parliament as well as on government websites.  More importantly, government departments are prohibited from buying goods and services from, or entering into contracts with, non-compliant employers.

Employers with over 100 employees that do not have an affirmative action policy in place should take immediate steps to achieve compliance.

New affirmative action laws are expected to be enacted in 2012 which feature the following:

  1. Online based reporting:
    (a) on affirmative action workplace programs in place;
    (b) on the gender composition of the employer’s board; and
    (c) against a set of gender equality indicators;
  2. Chief executive officers and employee representatives will need to sign-off on reports, and reports will be accessible for employees and shareholders;
  3. The enforcement authority will be given powers to conduct organisational reviews to make sure reports are accurate;
  4. Non-compliant organisations will be named in Parliament and more widely; and
  5. More effective measures to ensure that the Government deals only with complying organisations.

OHS Laws

It is important to be aware that national work health and safety (WHS) reforms are currently taking place to harmonise current occupational health and safety (OHS) laws across Australia.

From 1 January 2012, it is anticipated that new WHS laws will take effect to replace existing OHS laws, and will set substantially higher penalties for employers that breach their WHS obligations.

The WHS laws also broadens personal liability provisions under the OHS laws to cover “officers” as defined under the corporations law, and place a positive duty on officers to enquire and monitor their company’s safety performance.

Employers that are currently failing their OHS obligations should take immediate steps to review and rectify safety issues in the workplace.

Policy Review

Employers should regularly review their current policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the latest legal developments, such as:

  • Affirmative action laws;
  • OHS and WHS laws;
  • Fair Work laws, including the national employment standards;
  • Obligations under modern awards;
  • Social media and I.T. laws; and
  • Paid parental leave laws.

MST has extensive experience in assisting its clients to comply with the most current employment laws.  Please contact one of our Workplace Relations team for further information.

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