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Under New Zealand law, you have a responsibility as an employer to prevent and manage discrimination, harassment and bullying of your employees in your workplace. Therefore you must take steps to promote a fair workplace. You can develop an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy to create a diverse and safe workplace for all your employees. This article explains EEO and what New Zealand employers should include in an EEO policy.

What Is Equal Employment Opportunity?

EEO means that everyone can have equal access to employment opportunities based on merit, without fear of discrimination or harassment. 

Your Employer Obligations

Under New Zealand law, you cannot discriminate, directly or indirectly, against your employees. This extends to the hiring process. Here, you cannot ask questions to a job applicant that indicate an intention to discriminate. Some types of discrimination include:

  • age;
  • race or colour;
  • ethnicity or national origins;
  • sex (including pregnancy or childbirth);
  • sexual orientation;
  • disability;
  • religious or ethical belief;
  • marital or family status;
  • employment status;
  • political opinion;
  • domestic violence victims; and
  • involvement in union activities.

As an employer, you are usually responsible for any discrimination, harassment or bullying of employees that occurs in your workplace. If you receive a complaint from one of your employees, you must conduct a full investigation of all the relevant facts. You will minimise your liability if you can show that you took reasonable steps to minimise the issue. You can set out these steps in an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy. 

What Should You Include in an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy?

Just like all workplace policies, it is essential to have a written EEO policy that explains the steps you take to promote a fair workplace and comply with your EEO obligations. Ideally, you should provide the policy to your employees during their onboarding process and provide further training programs to ensure everyone in the workplace understands their obligations. You should review and update your policy regularly to reflect changes to the legislation or your organisation’s culture.

When drafting an EEO policy, you should clearly explain:

  • who and when your policy applies, for example, employee types, work locations and processes;
  • how your company meets your obligations under the relevant anti-discrimination laws;
  • who is responsible for each EEO-related process (for example, if a manager does not resolve an initial complaint, a Human Resources representative can step in);
  • details of your hiring process (for example, based on merit and without regard to attributes such as race, sex or gender); 
  • information on the dismissal of employees without breaching unfair dismissal laws; 
  • what steps you take to minimise discrimination, harassment or bullying in your workplace and to manage complaints; and
  • which equal employment opportunities are available to employees (for example, equal training opportunities for men and women in the workplace).

Key Takeaways 

As an employer, it is crucial to understand and comply with anti-discrimination laws in New Zealand. This includes taking steps to minimise discrimination, harassment or bullying of people that occur in your workplace. It is essential to have a written EEO policy that explains the actions you take to promote a fair workplace and comply with your EEO obligations. For example, your policy should include what steps you take to minimise discrimination, harassment or bullying in your workplace and to manage complaints; and which equal opportunities are available to your employees. If you need help understanding your employer obligations or you need help to draft or review an EEO policy, LegalVision’s employment lawyers can help. Call 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by equal employment opportunity?

EEO refers to the principle that everyone, no matter their social origin, gender identity or other attributes of their personality, should receive fair treatment during their employment decisions, such as hiring, promotion, termination and compensation.

How do you ensure equal employment opportunity?

To create a fair and safe workplace, you need to start by building a positive culture within your organisation that promotes respect. You should provide all new employees with a copy of your EEO policy, which sets out your behaviour expectations in the workplace, and provide training and information to managers so that they can deal sensitively and appropriately with any complaints. 

Why is EEO important?

By encouraging EEO, you can attract more diverse talent, improve your employees’ productivity and promote a positive workplace culture that is free from intimidation and inappropriate behaviour. You will also minimise your liability in the event of a complaint from an employee, which could escalate to an external party such as the New Zealand Police or the Human Rights Commission.

What is an equal opportunity policy?

An EEO policy is a formal document that sets out your organisation’s commitment to fairness in the workplace. It also lays down guidelines on how you will deal with issues that infringe your employees’ rights not to be discriminated against, harassed or bullied during their employment, including their hiring process.

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