All workers have a right to not be discriminated against or harassed.

It is against the law to treat a person unfairly at work because of personal characteristics like disability, race or sex. This applies to:

  • getting a job
  • work conditions
  • access to benefits like superannuation or training opportunities
  • dismissal from work.

Hamish, who has a limp as a result of a motorbike accident, applied for a job at a video store. They told him they couldn’t hire him because they needed someone who could ‘move about quickly’. Hamish assured the manager that he could do the work required, in spite of his limp, because he’d had a similar job in another video store previously.

He asked the manager to speak to his former boss to check this out. The manager declined.

This is disability discrimination.

It is also discrimination to have a general rule that applies to everyone, but is harsher on some people because of their disability, race, sex etc, if the rule is unreasonable. This is sometimes called ‘indirect discrimination’.

Koula’s sister, Effie, has Downs Syndrome. On Wednesday and Friday evenings both their parents are at work, so Koula has to be home to look after Effie. Koula got a job at a takeaway shop and they wanted her to work Friday evenings.

Whether this is discrimination will depend on whether it is reasonable for the shop to set this requirement. That could involve looking at how busy the shop is on Friday evenings and how many other staff are available to cover this shift.

Discrimination law protects volunteers as well as paid workers. This includes people who donate their time to a good cause and also covers students doing work experience or a work placement.

If you are treated unfairly at work because of any personal characteristics, it could be unlawful discrimination and you have the right to lodge a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission.