Commissioner for Equal Opportunity e-bulletin

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December 2018

From the Commissioner - Staying sensible during the silly season

What a year 2018 has been! If everyone’s workplace has been as busy as mine, then I’m sure there will be a lot of people with a lot to celebrate at their end of year functions this year.

End of year functions are often an opportunity for colleagues to enjoy some downtime together and relax after a busy year working as a team.

However, they should be events that every team member can enjoy which means all staff should remain aware their behaviour.

Although a staff party is often outside the office, the same codes of conduct should apply.

It is worth keeping in mind that for the purpose of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, office parties are still considered work.

This means unwelcome physical touching, hugging or kissing, staring or leering at someone or at parts of their body, suggestive comments or jokes, insults or taunts based on sex, sexually explicit pictures, e-mails or text messages and intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body at an office party could be unlawful sexual harassment.

Work parties can be perceived as social events where people aren’t obligated to behave as they would in the office.

For the last three years the Commission has noticed a spike in sexual harassment complaints during the month of March, which follows the ‘silly season’.

The Commission during this financial year has already seen an increase in sexual harassment complaints, following national Australian Human Rights Commission consultations into workplace sexual harassment and the global #MeToo movement.

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all staff at work and at work functions and there can be no greater commitment to being a ‘team player’ than if you report unlawful behaviour during the ‘silly season’ which threatens to undermine how your office works as a team going into the new year.

Acting Commissioner for Equal Opportunity John Byrne

 Acting Commissioner Dr John Byrne



Being mindful about mental health

The Equal Opportunity Commission and Strictly Hypothetical teamed up to present an interactive hypothetical event titled In Two Minds: brains bias and business as usual to mark both International Day of People with Disability and Human Rights Day.

Panelists Mental Health Advocate and Consumer Consultant Andrew Markovs, Co- Director of This Working Life Julie Loveny, Psychologist and Director of Vital Conversations Peta Slocombe, Mental health peer worker, writer and comedian Michele Woods and Crisis Support Services Manager at Lifeline WA David Kelly, discussed the hypothetical scenario of twins Amy and Jamie, who experience mental health issues that impact differently on their careers.

Acting WA Commissioner Dr John Byrne said the event addressed the issue of workplace bias in an entertaining and engaging way.

“The panellists portrayed their roles in the fictional scenario with such consideration and humour you could see the audience invested in the lives of Amy and Jamie and the outcome of the story.

“The hypothetical method is a marvellous way of getting the message across that impairment discrimination in the workplace is not only terrible for the person discriminated against, but also bad business for the employer.” Dr Byrne said.

Although both Amy and Jamie were able to eventually resolve their issues by demonstrating to their employers that you can manage a mental disability without having to compromise work projects, unfortunately this is not always the case in real life.

“Too many employers refuse to think outside the box when it comes to balancing impairment and work, and that is when employees engage the Equal Opportunity Commission which sometimes ends up as a legal process in the State Administrative Tribunal,” Dr Byrne said.

In Two Minds panel and Commissioner
Dr John Byrne with panelists and Strictly Hypothetical's Elisa Williams and Katrina Berkov



Age is not a use by date

During Seniors’ Week the Equal Opportunity Commission released its Age is not a use by date:  A snapshot of the experiences of discrimination among Western Australia’s seniors.

The snapshot documents the findings of consultations with seniors’ representative organisations and a state-wide survey of Western Australians over the age of 55.

 Acting WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Dr Byrne said seniors and seniors’ organisations both reported greater impact on seniors where age discrimination intersected with other types of discrimination, such as race, sex and impairment.

 “Mature aged women seem particularly vulnerable in their post working life due to not having accumulated sufficient superannuation or assets to support themselves.

Dr Byrne said the Commission compiled the snapshot to better understand how discrimination impacts on people living in WA over the age of 55, so it could focus on those issues in its community education and outreach work.

 “We know discrimination occurs against older people from our enquiries line and engaging people through our regular community outreach programs; however generally this group is less likely to lodge a formal complaint.”

 Dr Byrne said part of the reason for this was that the onus of proof was on the complainant.

 “Many seniors reported they felt ignored or ‘invisible’ at work and when receiving goods and services, and it is very hard to prove this is because of their age,” he said.

However, Dr Byrne said there had been instances where age discrimination had been quite overt and easy for the complainant to prove.

“In our 2017-18 Annual Report we documented an age discrimination complaint where the complainant alleged his supervisor referred to him as ‘useless’, ‘senile’ and ‘old’ and had suggested he would get rid of him,” he said.

 The snapshot is available on the Commission’s website.

Cover shot




Proud to take part in the parade

The Commission was one of 100 organisations that marched in the Perth Pride Parade on Saturday 24 November this year.

Acting WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Dr John Byrne said it was wonderful to see the parade so well supported.

“Both spectators and participants created such a positive atmosphere with their enthusiasm,” he said.

Dr Byrne said it was the fourth time the Commission had participated in the Pride Parade in recent years.

“I hope the event grows in strength as it is a wonderful way for Perth to celebrate diversity,” he said.

EOC staff at Pride Parade
Commission staff and family members marching at the Pride Parade




2019 Aboriginal Calendars available to order


The Commission’s 2019 Aboriginal Calendar has been printed and is ready to order.

You can order hard copies of the calendar and other Commission publications by filling out our online form here.

2019 Aboriginal Calendar

2019 Aboriginal Calendar 



What's coming up

The Commission’s Training Calendar from July to December 2018 is now available. You can register for all Commission courses on the Community Education page.


14 November 2018                          Introduction to Equal Opportunity Law

27 & 28 November 2018                  Equity Grievance Officer Role (TBC subject to numbers)

4 December 2018                             In Two Minds – Strictly Hypothetical Event

Please contact us on 9216 3900 if you are interested in organisation specific training or for a rights-based session for your clients or community members.

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