As an employee, you have a right to safe and discrimination-free workplace.

It's important to recognise potential discrimination and understand what you can do about it.

Caring responsibilities

Some staff have caring responsibilities. They might care for elderly parents, young children or sick relatives.

Equal opportunity law says that employers must make reasonable accommodation for an employee's caring responsibilities - within reason.

This is an example of what could be considered reasonable.

Sarah was employed in a call centre and needed time off to care for her mother with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Having nearly used up all her annual and carer’s leave, she applied for long service leave. Her employer said he needed all hands on deck right now. She asked for leave without pay, but the boss told her she must return to work or he’d find someone else.

Sarah then tried to negotiate alternative duties that would allow her to work at times when other people could care for her mother.

The only alternative duties on offer were variable shift work, which would require her to be available to work as early as 4am and as late as 11pm. She could not arrange care for her mother at these hours, so contacted our office.

The employer might have been acting reasonably in their dealings with Sarah.

If management had offered all that was reasonable, and there were good business reasons why she could not be given the leave she wanted, or a more suitable shift, then it is not discrimination.

If a business makes requirements of its employers that are especially difficult for carers to meet, this might be against the law.

A workplace changes a shift time from 9am to 8am. This change makes it difficult for a worker who is caring for a disabled relation to get an earlier replacement, and so it is often impossible to get to work on time.

It could be reasonable for the employer to find a way to allow this carer to start later when necessary.

If this is not possible for the employer to do, or if the employer can’t reasonably allow it, then it may not be unlawful discrimination. But if the EOC took up this worker’s complaint, one of the things it would look at is how unreasonable it was for the business to refuse.

Injury and illness

Employers are required to treat workers who are injured or ill fairly. Discrimination against injured or ill workers at work may include:

  • firing or demotion
  • denying or limiting access to promotion, transfer, bonus pay, training or any other benefits
  • unreasonable workplace policies, practices and procedures.

Employers are also responsible if staff members discriminate against each other because of injury or illness.

An employer should make reasonable adjustments to help you return to work after injury or illness - regardless of whether it happened in or outside of work.

Employers do have a right to check with a doctor whether you can do your job safely.

For example, a receptionist recovering from a sprained ankle is probably still able to do her job safely.

A bus driver with an eye injury might not be able to see well enough to drive safely.

If you are unable to perform your core duties, your employer is not expected to keep a position open indefinitely or make adjustments that cause unjustifiable hardship.

Losing shifts

Sometimes losing work hours or having shifts reduced can be considered discriminatory.

  • If your shifts have been reduced after turning 21 years of age, you may be able to make a complaint of age discrimination.
  • If your shifts have been reduced after becoming pregnant, you may be able to make a complaint of pregnancy discrimination.
  • If your shifts have been reduced because you have made a complaint about discrimination or harassment, this can be considered victimisation.

If you think your shifts have been cut because of discrimination, sexual harassment or victimisation in your workplace, contact us for advice.