Discrimination in the workplace Australia is a significant issue that can have a detrimental impact on individuals, organisations, and society as a whole. In Australia, like many other countries, workplace discrimination is prohibited by law, and efforts have been made to promote equal opportunities and fair treatment for all employees.
It is the unfair treatment of someone based on their personal characteristics such as national or ethnic origin. It is stressful to be unlawfully discriminated against. However, despite these legal protections, instances of unlawful discrimination continue to occur, highlighting the need for ongoing awareness, education, and enforcement.
In this article we will outline some types of discrimination in the workplace in Australia, and certain legal protections against it. There are federal as well as state and territory anti-discrimination laws.
Types of Discrimination in the Workplace Australia
Types of Workplace Discrimination in Australia:
- Age Discrimination: This occurs when an employee is treated unfavourably or denied opportunities based on their age. It can affect both younger and older workers, such as in recruitment, promotions, training, or unfair treatment due to stereotypes or assumptions.
- Gender Discrimination: Gender-based discrimination involves treating individuals differently or unfairly based on their gender or gender identity. It can manifest in various ways, such as unequal pay, promotion disparities, sexual harassment, or biased hiring practices.
- Racial Discrimination: Racial discrimination involves treating individuals differently or unfairly based on their race, colour, nationality, ethnic origin, or immigrant status. It can occur through racial slurs, offensive comments, exclusion, unfair treatment, or systemic biases.
- Disability Discrimination: This type of discrimination occurs when individuals with disabilities are treated less favourably or are denied equal access to employment opportunities. It includes discrimination based on physical, intellectual, sensory, or psychiatric disabilities and can involve issues like inaccessible workplaces, inadequate accommodations, or prejudiced attitudes.
Other Kinds of Discrimination
- Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination: Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity involves mistreatment or exclusion of individuals due to their sexual orientation (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual) or gender identity (e.g., transgender, non-binary). It can involve harassment, denial of benefits, or hostile work environments.
- Pregnancy and Family Responsibilities Discrimination: Discrimination against pregnant employees or employees with family responsibilities is prohibited in Australia. This includes unfair treatment, denial of promotions, negative impacts on career advancement, or termination based on pregnancy or caregiving responsibilities.
- Religious Discrimination: Discrimination based on religion involves treating individuals unfavourably due to their religious beliefs, practices, or affiliations. It includes practices such as religious harassment, refusing to accommodate religious practices, or discriminatory policies or actions targeting specific religious groups.
These types of discrimination are not exhaustive, and there may be overlaps or intersections between them. The Australian legal framework, particularly the Fair Work Act 2009, the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986,and the Anti-Discrimination Act of individual states and territories, provide protection against workplace discrimination and establish avenues for complaints and redress. For example, see NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.
It is essential for employers, employees, prospective employee, and society as a whole to be aware of these issues, foster inclusive and diverse workplaces, and actively work towards eliminating discrimination to create fair and equitable working environments for everyone.
Legal Protections Against Workplace Discrimination in Australia
There are certain laws and regulation in place that protect people against discrimination in the workplace Australia. Let’s explore some of the laws that provide this protection.
Australia has robust legal protections in place to prevent workplace discrimination and promote equality and fairness. The key laws that protect individuals against discrimination in the workplace include:
- Fair Work Act 2009: This federal legislation establishes the National Employment Standards (NES) and the Fair Work Commission (FWC), which governs various aspects of employment, including discrimination. The Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction, or social origin.
- Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986: This Act establishes the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) as an independent statutory authority responsible for promoting and protecting human rights in Australia. The AHRC investigates complaints of discrimination, harassment, and other human rights violations, including those related to the workplace.
- State and Territory Anti-Discrimination Legislation: Each Australian state and territory has its own anti-discrimination laws that complement the federal legislation. These laws provide additional protections and cover areas not covered by federal laws, such as education, housing, and other non-employment contexts. For example, in New South Wales, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 prohibits discrimination based on various protected attributes, including race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, and age.
Other Legal Protections
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984: This federal law specifically addresses sex discrimination and sexual harassment. It prohibits discriminatory treatment based on a person’s sex, marital or relationship status, pregnancy, or potential pregnancy. It also provides protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992: This federal legislation aims to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination based on disability, including direct and indirect discrimination, and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to enable employees with disabilities to participate fully in the workforce.
- Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012: This Act promotes gender equality in the workplace by requiring organisations with 100 or more employees to report on gender equality indicators, such as pay equity, representation in leadership positions, and workplace flexibility. It aims to address gender-based discrimination and promote equal opportunities for men and women.
Employees who experience workplace discrimination can file complaints with the relevant authority, such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Fair Work Commission, or the state or territory anti-discrimination commissions.
These bodies have the power to investigate complaints, conciliate disputes, and, in some cases, refer matters to the courts for further action.
It’s important for employers to be aware of these legal obligations and to take proactive steps to prevent discrimination, foster inclusive workplaces, and respond appropriately to complaints.
Seeking Advice from Employment Lawyers
Our employment lawyers have the experience of dealing with a variety of employment law issues. We can provide market-leading advice and help you if you are facing discrimination in the workplace in Australia. Some claims may not not be necessarily unlawful discrimination, therefore we can help you evaluate and assess the situation objectively.
Contact our firm today.