Identifying workplace discrimination


Employers have a responsibility to ensure their employees and people who apply to work for them are treated fairly. Set out in federal and state anti-discrimination legislation and the Fair Work Act 2009, unlawful workplace discrimination occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee or prospective employee because of their background or certain personal characteristics.

The types of characteristics that are protected from discrimination are:

  • Race, colour, national or ethnic origin or immigrant status.
  • Sex, pregnancy or marital status.
  • Age.
  • Physical or mental disability.
  • Religion or political opinion.
  • Sexual preference, gender identity and intersex status.

There are two forms of discrimination in the workplace. Direct discrimination is when a person is treated worse or less favourably because of one of the characteristics previously listed. Indirect discrimination occurs when a condition is applied at the workplace that one group can comply with while another may not be able to. An example of this could be requiring involvement in an activity that one religion can’t or wouldn’t engage in.

Occupational health and safety legislation requires employers and employees to comply with measures that promote health and safety in the workplace. Therefore, it is the employers’ responsibility to eliminate or reduce the risks to staff’s health and safety that may be caused by workplace bullying.

Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence. Employers need to be aware of their responsibilities in order to implement a working environment or workplace culture that isn’t hostile. Targeted practices implemented to address inappropriate workplace behaviour and deal effectively with any complaints will help to ensure a safe environment for everyone.