Employers have a responsibility to ensure their employees are safe at work - this includes preventing discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation.

This section provides guidance to employers about how best to avoid common forms of discrimination, harassment and victimisation and how to respond appropriately when discrimination does occur.

Dress codes are used in workplaces to make sure everyone is safe and dressed appropriately.

Employers are able to set a reasonable standard of dress and appearance, as long as there is no discrimination.

A dress code is discriminatory if it treats one group of people less favourably than another, and it is unreasonable to do so.

Dress standards related to specific enterprise agreements or occupational health, safety and welfare are generally considered reasonable.

Writing a dress code

Dress codes should:

  • be applied equally to men and women
  • relate to the job and be a reasonable requirement
  • allow workers to follow their cultural or religious beliefs
  • be fair to people with disabilities.

If a dress code does not meet these requirements, it may be discriminatory.

Common issues

Remember - the same rules must be applied to both men and women.

  • Piercings - It is not discrimination to ask workers to remove piercings like nose or eyebrow rings if dealing with customers
  • Tattoos - It is not discrimination to ask workers to cover tattoos if serving customers.
  • Hair - It may be discrimination to ask staff to be clean-shaven if it is against their religion to shave. However, it is not discrimination to ask workers to tie back their hair for health and safety reasons.
  • Clothing - Asking staff to wear business attire may be reasonable, but asking men to wear ties and women to wear skirts may be considered sex discrimination.

Most Australian workplaces today employ people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Cultural needs

Some workers may have specific cultural needs or requirements which should be taken into account.

  • Dress - specific clothing such as headscarves or turbans that are worn at all times
  • Religious practices - time during work each day for prayer or time off for special religious days
  • Customs - some cultures can or can't have specific foods and drinks, or may have rules about how food is prepared
  • Social values - ideas about appropriate social and sexual behaviour, work ethics, wealth and personal growth vary between cultures.
  • Family obligations - Some cultures have high family priorities which may sometimes conflict with work.
  • Non-verbal behaviour - Eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures and how people interpret them vary between cultures.

Employers are responsible for their workers' physical and psychological wellbeing and should encourage tolerance and respect for cultural differences in the workplace.

Workers are entitled to wear your religious dress at work, unless it creates a safety hazard. If a religious dress covers the face, an employee can be asked to show their face for reasonable identification purposes.

What employers can do

Employers can:

  • train staff
  • make use of staff cultural skills
  • promote cultural celebrations
  • be flexible
  • not discriminate against workers because of the employer's own cultural background.

Workers and employers should also consider cultural differences as possible reasons for problems or misunderstandings in the workplace.

It is unlawful to treat a worker unfairly because of a disability. It doesn't matter if the disability is permanent or temporary.

Discrimination against disabled staff may include:

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

An employer should provide an employee who has a disability with any special facilities or services to do the job, unless it would cause the employer unjustifiable hardship. These are called reasonable accommodations.

Discrimination can also occur because of a perceived disability. This is when an employer thinks a person with a disability can't do the job, without checking if they can.

Employers are also liable if staff members discriminate against each other because of disability.

Managing employee performance is a way of linking an employee's job plan and performance to the overall goals of a business.

Performance management is an ongoing process where employees and supervisors have opportunities to:

  • talk about the goals of the job and the business, and how they relate
  • talk about the employee's performance
  • set goals in key areas
  • identify ways of performing more effectively
  • develop a plan for the employee's ongoing development.

Employers have a right to monitor and manage the performance of their staff in a fair and reasonable way.

If employers focus on a personal situation rather than performance, this may be discrimination.

What can an employer do?

  • Raise issues relating to poor or unsatisfactory performance
  • Talk to an employee about their time off which may have been affecting their work
  • Monitor employee work output and productivity
  • Provide positive feedback
  • Set reasonable deadlines
  • Take disciplinary action in cases of misconduct.

What shouldn't an employer do?

  • Focus on personal situations such as health, marital status or caring responsibilities when managing performance.
  • Set unreasonable requirements that may discriminate against an employee based on their personal characteristics, health or caring responsibilities.
  • Use irrelevant personal characteristics as a reason to discipline staff.