If you deal with people in your business, you need to comply with the Human Rights Act 1993. This Act deals with the issue of discrimination. Discrimination is defined in the Act to mean treating people differently because of their sex, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief, colour, race, ethnic or national origins, disability, age, political opinion, employment status, family status or sexual orientation. It is unlawful to discriminate against someone on any of these grounds.
The Human Rights Act applies in a wide range of situations. To comply with this Act, you need to ensure that your business does not discriminate on any of the prohibited grounds. As examples, and this is not an exclusive list, your business cannot discriminate when:
- Employing staff;
- Providing private superannuation entitlements;
- Providing goods or services;
- Regulating entry into places where members of the public have general access; or
- Providing accommodation.
One of the most likely areas of non-compliance for businesses is employment procedures. This includes not just the obvious areas of the engagement, appraisal, promotion and discipline, but also general day-to-day dealings with and between staff. Your business can be held liable for breaches of the Act by its employees.
To avoid liability your business must show that it has taken all reasonably practicable steps to prevent such conduct occurring in the workplace. Employment application forms, employee records and employment agreements also need special attention.
Effects of non-compliance
If your business breaches the Human Rights Act, it can be liable for a wide range of penalties, including:
- A declaration that you or your business has breached the Human Rights Act;
- An order that any offending activity cease;
- An order that you or your business take action to remedy the breach;
- Damages not exceeding $200,000 in a proceeding before the Human Rights Review Tribunal and in excess of that sum in the High Court;
- Compensation or a variation of the contract where an illegal contract has been entered into in breach of the Human Rights Act;
- An order that you or your business undertake training to ensure that you comply with the Human Rights Act in the future.
Complying with the Human Rights Act
Human rights are a high profile public issue. Any suggestion that your business has breached the Human Rights Act could result in significant negative publicity. However, you can generate considerable goodwill for your business by establishing a reputation for dealing fairly with your staff and customers. Ensuring that you comply with your obligations under the Human Rights Act can therefore not only help you to avoid significant penalties and negative publicity but can also positively develop the goodwill of your business.