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Harassment & discrimination at Work

Harassment & Discrimination at Work

There are different types of discrimination and harassment an employee can suffer at work. It’s not ok to be discriminated or harassed at work by your employer or anyone else.

This section explains what rights you have when you’re harassed or discriminated in the workplace.

What is sexual harassment at the workplace?

Sexual harassment is quite legally specific in employment law.

Sexual harassment defined under the law is where your employer or your employer’s representative:

  • directly or indirectly requests some kind of sexual activity where they suggest your employment could be affected if you don’t agree to it (e.g. you would be promoted or fired or disadvantaged); or
  • is unwelcome or offensive behaviour that is repeated over time or is harmful to your employment.

You can also be sexually harassed by co-workers or customers, and the employer should take steps to remedy that situation. You should let your employer know if you’re sexually harassed at work, and if they don’t take steps to resolve it, you may be able to raise a personal grievance.

I am being harassed by a workmate, customer, or client. What do I do?

If the harassment comes from a customer, a client or a workmate (who is not in a more superior position to you, or their sexual harassment does not meet the legal criteria of a sexual harassment), you can complain about the behaviour to your boss or employer. If your boss or employer accepts that harassment occurred, they must do everything reasonably possible to prevent it from happening again.

If the employer doesn’t take reasonable steps to resolve the issue in a reasonable time, you may be able to raise a personal grievance.

What is racial harassment at the workplace?

Racial harassment is where your employer or employer’s representative:

  • communicates with you (written or spoken or through visual material) or displays physical behaviour which directly or indirectly expresses hostility, embarrasses, insults or abuses you; and
  • the embarrassment or insult or abuse is because of your race, colour or your ethnic or national origins; and
  • you find that behaviour hurtful or offensive (even if you haven’t told them so); and
  • it makes you unhappy at work either as a one-off significant event or is repeated over time.

You should let your employer know if you’re racially harassed at work, and if they don’t take steps to resolve it, you may be able to raise a personal grievance.

What is discrimination at work?

It may be unlawful discrimination at work if your employer, boss or workmate disadvantages you at work because of who you are and what you believe in. For example, they could give you fewer benefits, biased work responsibilities or pressure you to resign, simply due to who you are. The Human Rights Act outlines a list of prohibited grounds of discrimination which means that an employer cannot disadvantage you for these reasons. The discrimination has to disadvantage you in some way, or be unreasonable, e.g. if you’re not a pregnant woman, you can’t complain about discrimination due to your inability to access the accessible toilets or parking spaces for pregnant mothers, because the discrimination is not unreasonable.

What can’t an employer discriminate against?

Generally, employers are not allowed to unreasonably disadvantage you if you belong to a workers’ union, or are of a certain sex or gender, sexual orientation, family status, ethnicity, marital status, religious beliefs, colour, race, disability, age (16 or above), employment status, and political opinion.

What happens if others at work are discriminating against me?

Unlike sexual or racial discrimination, your employer may not be responsible for customers or clients acting in a discriminatory way towards you. However, the employer should still act in good faith so you feel safe at work and are not disadvantaged, and should take steps to minimise the discriminatory behaviour where possible. You may also be able to complain about the individual to the Human Rights Commission.

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