Is your agency or business ready for 2014?

What you need to know

A number of important changes have recently been made to the employment and industrial relations landscape, including:

  • the expansion of Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws to cover gender identity, intersex status and sexual orientation (effective 1 August 2013)
  • a legislative scheme for addressing workplace bullying (effective 1 January 2014)
  • a new Public Interest Disclosure scheme for the Commonwealth (effective 1 January 2014).
  • a revised set of privacy principles (effective 12 March 2014).

These changes affect government agencies as well as private businesses.

Discrimination — sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status

On 1 August 2013, amendments came into force to the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity, intersex status and sexual orientation.

The amendments are designed to protect gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, intersex and gender diverse persons from discrimination in areas such as employment, education, accommodation, the provision of goods or services, membership and activities of licensed clubs and the administration of Commonwealth government programs and laws (subject to limited exceptions).

The obligation not to discriminate applies to the public sector, private business and associations – regardless of the size of the agency or entity. We can assist your agency or business if you need advice on handling discrimination issues.

Workplace bullying

From 1 January 2014, the Fair Work Commission will have jurisdiction to deal with complaints about workplace bullying.

Any worker who believes they are the subject of workplace bullying can complain to the Fair Work Commission for an order that the bullying stops. This includes not only employees, but just about anyone who carries out work in your agency or place of business (such as contractors, apprentices and volunteers).

You should also be aware that your agency or business may be subject to an order, for example, to monitor workplace behaviour or provide training to workers.

It is important that your agency or business has policies and procedures in place for dealing with workplace bullying. If you need assistance with this, contact our specialist Employment, Industrial Relations and Safety Team.

Public interest disclosure changes

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (Cth) commences on 15 January 2014.

The Act establishes a new scheme to promote integrity and accountability in the Commonwealth public sector and is designed to encourage disclosures, support and protect people making the disclosures and properly investigate serious wrongdoing including corruption, maladministration, fraud and conduct that effects the proper administration of the public service or which is an abuse of public trust.

Whilst disclosures can only be made by current and former “public officials”, the definition of public official is quite wide. The Act applies to conduct by all Commonwealth agencies and entities, public officials in the course of their duties and businesses contracted to provide services to the Commonwealth.

Agencies must have systems in place to investigate disclosures covered by the Act and should also ensure those systems provide adequate protection to people who make a disclosure.

The Australian Privacy Principles

From 12 March 2014, a uniform set of privacy principles – the Australian Privacy Principles – will apply to agencies and businesses handling personal information.

A significant change is that it will now be mandatory for businesses to have a clear, up to date privacy policy. Previously, only government agencies were required to have such a policy. Businesses and agencies will also need to ensure they have a compliance program in place to monitor compliance with the Australian Privacy Principles and properly handle complaints.

Contact us if you want to know more about the changes or need assistance in setting up your privacy policies and procedures.

Things you can do now

Work through this checklist to ensure your agency or business is prepared:

  • Familiarise yourself with these changes
  • Review and update your policies
  • Ensure you have procedures in place for handling discrimination and bullying complaints Update your procedures on the collection, storage and use of personal information
  • If you are a Commonwealth agency, set up systems to monitor, investigate and act on public interest disclosures, including ensuring you have protections in place for people who make disclosures
  • If you are a business providing services to the Commonwealth, ensure your staff are aware of their obligations when providing these services and make sure you monitor compliance
  • Arrange for training to be provided to workers about these legislative changes Engage
  • A trusted advisor to assist you with any technical or procedural issues as they arise.

For further information please contact our Employment Team:

Jennifer Wyborn — Partner — Employment & Workplace Relations
(02) 6279 4328
jennifer.wyborn@meyervandenberg.com.au

Nathan Moy — Lawyer — Employment & Workplace Relations
(02) 6279 4366
nathan.moy@meyervandenberg.com.au