Discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfairly because that person has an attribute or a personal characteristic. For the person to be discriminated against the attribute or personal characteristic must be protected by law.
For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.
Not all attributes or personal characteristics will be grounds of discrimination. That is, not all attributes or personal characteristics are protected by law.
The only personal characteristics on which you can be discriminated against are:
Being treated differently is not always discrimination.
For example, it is not discrimination if:
Discrimination is different from sexual harassment and bullying.
Sexual harassment is sexual behaviour which offends you, or makes you feel humiliated or intimidated.. Check out the Sexual Assault & Sexual Harassment page for more information.
Bullying can overlap with discrimination, but not always. Bullying can include verbal or physical abuse, such as yelling, screaming or offensive language or even non-physical or non-verbal actions, such as isolation. In some instances (like at work), bullying is against the law. Check out the School Bullying page for more information about school bullying.
Your employer and coworkers cannot discriminate against you when you work for them or when they are interviewing and hiring you.
Some common forms of less favourable treatment in the workplace include:
If you are treated in the above ways, because you have a personal characteristic, that is protected by law, then this may be discrimination. In certain situations, your employer may have to do more to ensure that you aren’t indirectly discriminated against in your workplace. For example, if you have a disability, your employer may need to make reasonable adjustments at the workplace such as introducing a ramp for wheelchair access or employing read-aloud software programs for the visually impaired.
Even if your manager or colleagues are treating you less favourably, your employer may still be responsible for the discrimination.
|Case Study:Dinesh works at a bar. He was born in Sri Lanka. His boss took him off the roster because she couldn’t understand him. When he spoke to his boss about it, she said “I’m not a racist but I cannot understand you.” The court decided that this was discrimination on the basis of Dinesh’s race and Dinesh was awarded $1,000 in compensation.|
There are also exceptions to discrimination laws that affect teenagers and children specifically:
These are some exceptions when you have a disability:
Discrimination laws for schools, universities or other training organisations aim to make sure that all students are treated the same way and given the same opportunities as other students. You don’t have to put up with discrimination at school.
What kind of discrimination may occur in school?
A school may treat you unfairly on the basis of a ground of discrimination by:
Not all forms of discrimination are against the law. Sometimes schools can make rules or decisions that discriminate against students.
For example, a school can refuse to enrol you if:
|Good to Know:Except for race discrimination, private schools are generally exempt from discrimination laws. For example, a religious private school is allowed to exclude people on the basis that they might be homosexual.|
It is against the law for a club or association to discriminate against a person based on a characteristic by not allowing them membership or by allowing them membership on certain terms and conditions. An exception to this is the right to refuse membership to a certain sexes or to those with certain disabilities, if the club or association caters only to a certain sex or the person seeking membership is not disabled. Clubs that also cater to those specific age groups are allowed to exclude others if the club is mainly intended to benefit people of that age group.
Participating in sports can be hindered by people who exclude people with certain characteristics from playing. Though discrimination isn’t allowed generally, there are some exceptions with playing competitive sports.
|Real life example:Two girls, aged 14 and 15, played Australian Rules Football in a local team and were halfway through their season. The club decided that the girls should be excluded from the sport. The girls went to a tribunal to argue that they should be able to still play. The judge decided that the club wouldn’t be discriminating if that exclude girls from playing in under-15’s competitions because strength, stamina and physique of girls was important in that game with that age ground but that wasn’t important in the under-14’s competition.|
Everyone has a right to a safe workplace without unlawful discrimination. If you think you have been discriminated against, it’s a good idea to:
1. Talk to your employer about it
The first step is to see if your work has any policies about dealing with discrimination. You can ask your HR representative for a copy. If it does, it might have information about how to resolve the problem. If your workplace doesn’t have a discrimination policy, you can talk to your manager or HR representative about what’s happening.
If you’re nervous about talking to your manager or HR representative, you might want to put the complaint in writing, or have a trusted friend sit in the meeting with you to support you.
2. If you are a member of a union
You can talk to your union representative about what’s going on. They may be able to provide you with some advice or assistance about dealing with the issues.
3. Make a complaint to a government agency
If your employer doesn’t properly investigate your complaint, or you think their decision is unfair, you can make a complaint to a government agency.
Depending on the type of discrimination or harassment, you may be able to make a complaint to different government agencies. It’s important to get advice about the different agencies, because there are differences in the complaints processes.
There are time limits on when you can make a discrimination complaint, that’s why it’s a good idea to get advice as soon as possible so that your complaint is valid.
Please contact the following organisations to find out who you should make your complaint to:
Complaints are usually resolved through ‘conciliation’, where you sit down with your employer and an officer from the government agency and have a chat about what happened and what can be done to resolve the complaint; ideally coming to an agreement. This may include an apology or, in some circumstances, compensation.
But sometimes this process does not lead to an acceptable outcome. You then have the option of taking the complaint to a tribunal or court. However, you should not go to court or a tribunal without getting legal advice and representation first. It is often available for free!
If you would like to speak to someone about what is going on at work, you can talk to someone from Headspace or Kids Helpline. They are free and confidential counselling services for people under 25. You can call them or chat online at:
If you are over 25 and you’re feeling down because of something that’s happening at work, please contact Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.
If you’re under 25 and you have a question about discrimination that we haven’t answered here, please ask us a question here and we can give you some free information and advice.
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