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Discrimination

What is discrimation?

Discrimination is when someone is treated differently from another person in the same or similar circumstances.

In some situations, being treated differently is allowed. It’s not easy to stop discrimination, especially in people’s ‘private’ lives. For example, if someone doesn’t want to be your friend because of the colour of your skin or won’t play with you because you’re a girl, there’s no law that can make them.

But the Human Rights Act 1993 makes it illegal to be discriminated against in ‘public’ life. Public life includes things like:

  • access to education;
  • access to goods and services;
  • access to public places, vehicles and facilities;
  • employment;
  • land, housing and accommodation;
  • government or public sector activities;
  • industrial and professional associations, qualifying bodies and vocational training bodies; and
  • partnerships.

If you’ve been discriminated against in one of these areas because of one of the reasons listed below, you may have enough reason to make a complaint. Keep in mind that they only apply to public life, not private life.

What can’t I be discriminated for?

In your public life, you can’t be discriminated for:

  • sex;
  • marital status;
  • religious belief;
  • ethical belief;
  • colour;
  • race;
  • ethnic or national origins;
  • disability;
  • age (16 and above);
  • political opinion;
  • employment status;
  • family status;
  • sexual orientation.

Can I be discriminated against for my sex?

‘Sex’ refers to gender, including being transgender. It also includes pregnancy and childbirth.

Generally, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your sex, but there are several exceptions, e.g. competitive sporting activities can be limited to one sex when physique is relevant or insurance policies.

Can I be discriminated against for my marital status?

‘Marital status’ includes whether you’re single, married, in a civil unionde facto relationship, separated, divorced, widowed or widowered.

Generally, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your marital status. But in certain accommodation settings, like a hostel or shared accommodation, they may be able to discriminate you for your marital status.

Can I be discriminated against on the basis of religious or ethical belief?

‘Religious belief’ isn’t defined, but would cover any religion you might have. ‘Ethical belief’ means the lack of religious belief, whether in relation to one religion or all religions.

Generally, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your religious or ethical belief. But there are some situations where it’s OK, e.g. a religious institution like a Church is allowed to refuse to hire you because you don’t belong to their religion.

Can I be discriminated against on the basis of colour, race or ethnic or national origins?

‘Colour’ and ‘race’ aren’t defined, but ‘ethnic or national origins’ covers where you were born, your nationality and your citizenship.

Generally, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your colour, race or ethnic or national origins. There are exceptions for organisations or services set up for the benefit of a specific race, or in counselling for personal matters.

Can I be discriminated against because of my disability?

Disability includes (but is not limited to) a physical disability or impairment, physical illness, psychiatric illness, intellectual or psychological disability or impairment, the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing illness (such as HIV or AIDs), or needing a guide dog or wheelchair.

Generally, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your disability. Public bodies or those providing public services have to do what’s reasonable to accommodate your disability. But they won’t have to make changes to accommodate you beyond what’s reasonable. This might be because they would have to do things that are really expensive, would take a long time or might cause undue hardship to them or someone else if they made the accommodation.

Can I be discriminated for my age?

Discrimination against ‘Age’ is a little bit misleading because this only applies to people aged at least 16. If you’re under 16, you won’t be able to claim protection from discrimination on the basis of your age.

Generally, once you’re 16 or over, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your age. There are some exceptions to this, e.g. an employer is allowed to pay you less than older people in some circumstances, if you’re under 20, as the law allows it in some circumstances.

Can I be discriminated against on the basis of my political opinion?

‘Political opinion’ includes having and not having a political opinion.

Generally, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your political opinion. There are some exceptions, for example, if you want to work for a particular political party.

What is discrimination on the basis of employment status?

‘Employment status’ includes being unemployed, on a Work and Income benefit, or receiving benefits under the ACC scheme.

Generally, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your employment status. There are exceptions, e.g. offering discounted rates on goods and services to those with a certain kind of employment status.

What is discrimination on the basis of family status?

‘Family status’ includes being in a relationship with or related to a particular person. It also includes whether or not you’re responsible for dependent children.

Generally, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your family status. But there are some exceptions in some employment and shared residential accommodation situations.

What is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?

‘Sexual orientation’ means whether you’re heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual.

Generally, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your sexual orientation. There are some exceptions for things like counselling on personal matters. For example, an employer might be able to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation when hiring a counsellor for a particular purpose related to sexuality.

Can discrimination be used to make things more fair?

There’s a general exception where discrimination is permitted, this is where measures are taken to ensure equality. Something that might usually be illegal discrimination might be OK if it’s there to help a certain group of people reach more equality. This means that ‘affirmative action’, which gives preference to certain people because of their race, gender or ethnicity, will be OK. This often happens in areas like education and employment.

Are some forms of ‘discrimination’ acceptable?

Similar to measures to ensure equality, businesses that provide goods and services are also allowed to charge reduced fees, charges or rates on the basis of sex or age.  For example, many businesses charge lower prices for children. Insurance providers can have different terms or conditions for persons of different gender/age, as long as they have good reasons based on scientific data or medical opinion. For example, older people or smokers may have to pay more for insurance as scientific studies have proven they’re more likely to have poor health.

Also, only reasonable accommodation needs to be made to ensure there is no discrimination on the prohibited grounds.

What is reasonable accommodation in terms of human rights?

Public bodies or those providing public services have to do what’s reasonable to accommodate any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination, but they don’t have to make changes to accommodate you beyond what’s reasonable. This might be because accommodation would be disproportionately or largely troublesome for them – e.g. very expensive to make the accommodation, would take a long time or resources to complete, impossible for them to complete etc.

Obligations of reasonable accommodation should be provided to both staff and in all aspects of service delivery and decision making. Ensuring reasonable accommodation often can cost little or nothing at all, for example, a change in policy or a change in attitude – in which case, such reasonable accommodations are required to be made. You can find more information on this Human Rights Commission guide.

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