The majority of discrimination complaints made in Australia relate to discrimination in the workplace.  Discrimination law is comples and making or dealing with a complaint can be confusing and stressful.

What are the discrimination laws?

Discrimination law in the ACT or NSW is governed by a network of anti-discrimination legislation including: the following

·         Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth);

·         Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) or Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW)

·         Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)

·         Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)

·         Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)

·         Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth)

Generally, discrimination legislation prohibits less favourable treatment of a person, or the imposition of a condition that leads to less favourable treatment of a person, in a protected arena (such as a workplace) because of a protected attribute.

The protected attributes under these Acts include:

·         Race

·         Colour

·         Sex

·         Sexual orientation

·         Gender identity

·         Age

·         Disability (including mental or physical)

·         Marital status

·         Family or carer’s responsibilities

·         Pregnancy

·         Breastfeeding

·         Industrial activity (union involvement)

·         Spent convictions

·         Profession, trade, occupation or calling

·         Religion

·         Political opinion

·         National extraction

·         Social origin

·         Association with a person with a protected attribute


I think I have been discriminated in the workplace - what do I do?

If you believe you have been discriminated against, you may be able to commence proceedings in the Fair Work Commission, Federal Court, Federal Circuit Court, Australian Human Rights Commission, ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal or NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. You are not permitted to make a complaint in more than one of these jurisdictions, and there are costs, compensation and limitation period implications which can impact on your decision about jurisdiction.

How do I protect my company from workplace discrimination complaints?

For a company, the best steps to prevent discrimination are pre-emptive. Having an anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy in place will educate your employees about what is considered unacceptable behaviour in your workplace. Having a policy in place, educating your employees about it, should provide a strong foundation to terminate employees who are discriminating against or harassing employees. Such a policy may also provide a defence if your company is being accused of being partially responsible for discrimination carried out by your employees.

What are the time limits involved in making a workplace discrimination complaint?

It is important to keep in mind that if the discrimination has led to the termination of your employment you have olnly 21 days in which to make a complaint to the Fair Work Commission. Complainants also need to file a complaint within 12 months of the behaviour complained of if commencing in the Australian Human Rights Commission. If you wish to commence in the Australian Human Rights Commission, you have 12 months, and in the ACT Human Rights Commission your complaint must be filed within 2 years.

If you wish to allege discrimination, not resulting in your dismissal from employment, then you have six years from the act of discrimination in which to bring your complaint with the Fair Work Commission.

Why do I, or my company, need a workplace discrimination lawyer?

Meyer Vandenberg’s Employment and Industrial Relations Team can help you, or your business, negotiate this complicated area of law by:

·         advising on potential causes of action,

·         drafting an anti-discrimination and bullying policy,

·         providing training to your employees

·         advising on, and acting for you, in relation to a discrimination complaint; or

·         conducting workplace investigations into alleged discriminatory conduct.

For more information on discrimination contact our Employment Law Team.

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