The Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey result and the implications for your workplace

Grevis Beard
November 29, 2017

Four months later, approximately $100 million dollars expended, and the results of the same-sex marriage voluntary postal survey are finally in – a resounding YES.

Unfortunately, the greater “national conversation” on this issue has had a negative impact on some gay and lesbian Australians. Increased levels of anxiety and stress have been reported. The national mental health service, beyondblue, registered a 40% increase in call volume since the survey was announced. Similarly, the digital youth service, ReachOut, stated that they have seen a 20% surge in people accessing their online advice relating to gay and lesbian issues. What this ultimately highlights is that the survey has not been an easy process for many gay and lesbian Australians. Accordingly, HR managers should be ensuring that they are looking out for gay and lesbian employees who may have been negatively affected. Ensure that you provide EAP and support, as needed, and that such resources are easily available and visible.

This recent national opinion poll was an extraordinary event. Never before has such a process been used to influence a parliament to decide whether a public civil right should be extended by law. Gay and lesbian Australians were, in this case, the targeted focus. Given its unprecedented nature, it is time to consider, from an HR perspective, what negative unintended effect the running of this survey may possibly have had on your workplace culture.

Equal treatment is not optional

It would be extremely concerning if staff within your workplace were either consciously or subconsciously influenced by the recent opinion poll on same-sex marriage to now think that equal treatment of gay and lesbian work colleagues or customers was, in any way, an option, as opposed to mandatory. To paraphrase, “it’s not Ok to say ‘No’ to equal treatment of homosexual people”. Let this be a clear message for your workplace.

Ensure that your policies of equal treatment of all staff, regardless of sexuality, are fully visible and communicated.

This approach is particularly useful if there are any workplace conversations that do occur over the next few weeks around the impending legislative passage of the same sex marriage bill.

Respectful behaviour at work

Looking back, hopefully you can be confident that employee discussion over the past few months of this issue, either verbally within the workplace, by email and/or on social media, has been respectful and constructive – and continues to be so.

Now is a good time to remind staff to adhere to the relevant code of behavioural code of conduct within your organisation.

Given that not all employees come forward when they do experience any inappropriate workplace behaviour, sadly, it may be that silence does not mean all is well. For example, gay and lesbian employees may not feel comfortable to be seen as the official complainant. Make sure you maintain clear understanding of what respectful treatment of all staff looks like.

Refresh your policies

A refresher on your social media policy may also be pertinent to employees at this time too. In particular, you may want to remind employees that it is an offence to bring your employer into disrepute. Employees who give their opinions on Facebook, twitter and other social media, especially where your workplace is easily identifiable from their profile, need to act in accordance with your policy’s requirements of respect and appropriate content.

Now is also a good time to review your own policies generally, in case, with the impeding expanded definition of marriage, any phrases or definitions in your policies need to be updated to reflect this. Presumably, your policies already provide equal access to benefits to homosexual employees who are “domestically partnered” as for heterosexual employees in de facto relationships or who are currently married.

Here’s to promoting an inclusive workplace culture!

About Grevis Beard

Grevis Beard, WorklogicGrevis Beard has significant knowledge of the dynamics of workplace disputes and their resolution and 10 years’ experience at Worklogic. Grevis works with a range of clients to improve workplace communication and behaviour, manage workplace risks and handle complaints.

Worklogic has extensive experience conducting workplace reviews to help organisations understand and proactively address workplace concerns. If you would like advice on a workplace review, you can contact Grevis for an obligation-free discussion via email or by calling (03) 9981 6555.

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