The law recognises that treating people equally does not always mean treating people exactly the same.
The Equal Opportunity Act allows schemes or undertakings to assist people of a certain disability, race, age, sex, marital status, sexuality or to assist pregnant women, people with caring responsibilities and people of a chosen gender.
Schemes or undertakings are also known as "special measures". Special measures can be set up in any area of public life covered by equal opportunity laws.
To be a special measure, a scheme should:
- have a clear, pre-determined aim or outcome for the benefit of a particular disadvantaged group
- have reasonably developed guidelines
- be ongoing.
A local council identified a high proportion of unemployed youth in the area. They set up a program to assist people between the ages of 18 and 24 to get jobs. The scheme was a special measure for the benefit of a disadvantaged group.
To be a special measure, an undertaking can:
- be a discrete project for the benefit of a particular disadvantaged group
- have limited scope or be a "one off"
- have fewer guidelines
- have an end point.
A developer built home units to provide low cost accommodation for retired and elderly people. The Council planning approval limited sale of the units to people over 55 years of age. The undertaking was a special measure for the benefit of disadvantaged people.
How to get special measure status
You do not need to apply or get approval for a scheme or undertaking if it intends to achieve equal opportunity for people of a particular disability, race, age, sex, marital status, or for pregnant women, people with caring responsibilities and people of a chosen gender. It will generally be covered by an existing exemption in the Equal Opportunity Act. If you aren’t sure if your scheme or undertaking is a special measure, contact us for advice.
If a discrimination complaint is made against your scheme or undertaking, you will need to give good reasons to the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity as to how and why it is a special measure.
If your scheme or undertaking does not fit within an existing exemption in the Act you may still be able to apply to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal for a temporary exemption.