You may not be aware that the Equal Opportunity Act has been amended in recent times.
Most recently, from 14 June 2022, religious bodies and schools are not allowed to discriminate against people based on their “personal characteristics” of sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity: in employment decisions or decisions about school students.
However, they can discriminate based on their religious belief, in limited circumstances: a) in the case of employment, if the discrimination conforms with the religious belief which is an inherent requirement of the job, the employee/applicant can’t meet the requirement and any action (or detriment) is a reasonable and proportionate response, b) in the case of students, where to do so is consistent with the beliefs, or reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of the school’s religion.
Individuals cannot discriminate in the circumstances covered by the Act to comply with religious beliefs i.e. it must be the organisation that holds or represents the religious belief.
Religious bodies can still discriminate based on the personal characteristics, but now there is a new requirement that it be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances (in addition to it conforming with the doctrines and beliefs of the religion, or being reasonably necessary to avoid injury to religious sensitivities of adherents).
From 14 December 2022, when providing goods or services funded by the Victorian government, religious bodies will only be able to discriminate based on a person’s religious belief. They will not be able to discriminate based on other personal characteristics. Religious bodies and schools will however still be able to discriminate in relation to ordaining priests, ministers and members of religious orders; training or educating those seeking these roles; and appointing people to perform functions relating to any religious observance or practice.
These recent amendments follow further amendments made in 2021, which included the addition of “sex characteristics” as a protected attribute, that is, a ground upon which one may not discriminate. “Sex characteristics” means a person’s physical features relating to sex, including a) genitalia and other sexual and reproductive parts of the person’s anatomy; and b) the person’s chromosomes, genes, hormones, and secondary physical features that emerge as a result of puberty. “This is intended to provide further protection to intersex people. Updated definitions for gender identity and sexual orientation are also in place, reflecting a growing understanding and awareness of our diverse community, and ensuring increased protection for trans and gender diverse Victorians against discrimination.” (Victorian State Government statement in 2021). If you have any questions about these amendments, or require assistance updating your polices, please let us know.