Anti-discrimination in the workplace

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Principles of anti-discrimination

The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1987 prohibits breaches of  human rights by the Commonwealth and discrimination in employment on the basis of race, colour, sex,  religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, age, medical record, impairment, marital  status, mental, intellectual or psychiatric disability, nationality, physical disability, sexual preference, or trade union activity.


Anti-discrimination is the prevention of discrimination such as the treating of one person differently from, or less favourably than another in the same situation that have no relevance to the situations.

Anti-discrimination legislation

There are many pieces of legislation that seek to eliminate discrimination in the workplace. They include…

  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1987
  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW)
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Act 1987
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (which also incorporates the Equal Employment for Women in the Workplace Act 1999)


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Rights and responsibilities

An employer may be legally liable for an employee’s acts of discrimination or harassment unless it can show that it took reasonable precautions to prevent discrimination. This includes dealing with customers or guests. It is against the law to treat someone unfairly or harass (or hassle) them in an employment situation. The law covers job applicants, employees, co-workers, managers, supervisors and contract workers. It  applies when deciding who to hire, how to treat employees and which employees to dismiss, retire or  make redundant. It covers industrial organisations, partnerships and professional qualifying bodies.


Employees have a major role to play in the elimination of discriminatory attitudes or actions in the workplace. How fellow employees are treated, can lead to complaints and/or legal action. The company is expected to take reasonable precautions to prevent any discrimination in their business. What is reasonable will depend on the individual circumstances of the employer, but in general, reasonable precautions will include steps such as running regular equal opportunity training for staff and having equal opportunity and complaints policies. It is not enough to simply have good policies. They must be communicated to all staff

Workplace policies and procedures

A key aspect of prevention of discrimination and harassment in the workplace is the development and promotion of a written policy which makes it clear that these actions will not be tolerated under any circumstances. It is important that the different types of discrimination and harassment are well-defined and addressed comprehensively. A written policy should include: 

  • A strong statement of the organisation’s attitude to discrimination and harassment
  • A clearly worded definition of discrimination and harassment
  • A statement that discrimination and harassment on any of the grounds listed in the legislation is against the law
  • Circumstances where discrimination and harassment can occur
  • A statement that everyone has a responsibility to prevent workplace harassment and discrimination
  • Information on how and where to seek help if discrimination or harassment occurs
  • The likely consequences of unlawful discrimination or harassment  




Employers should provide the policy to new staff as a standard part of induction. Employers may want employees to sign a copy of the policy acknowledging that they received and understood it. The policy should be displayed on notice boards, included in personnel manuals, made accessible on computer networks and promoted at staff briefings and meetings where relevant


FOR THE VICTIM Discrimination may cause profound and serious psychological injury. This may result in stress, lack of concentration, lack of motivation and even depression. As many workers in the Entertainment Industry are employed as casual, seasonal or contract work, they may find it difficult to get future work due to being tagged as ‘difficult’ or a ‘whiner’ or on an unofficial ‘black list’. 


FOR THE ORGANISATION  Discrimination may destroy good working relations and deteriorate the work environment. Absenteeism, resignation, lack of motivation and lower quality and productivity are some of the consequences of a discriminatory workplace and can be costly in terms of wasted time and resources. Fines and penalties are imposed by federal or state regulators of the relevant Anti-discrimination Act upon the investigation and discovery of discriminatory practices in the workplace. Attorney fees, investigative expenses and lost productivity as a result of time away from the workplace to provide witness testimony are examples of the tangible consequences of discrimination in the workplace. In addition, there are very often compensation payments, back pay and restoration to full employment in many cases 


LEGAL RAMIFICATIONS Under the Fair Work Act 2009, there are a number of remedies and penalties for adverse action on discriminatory grounds. The maximum penalty for contravention of the unlawful discrimination protections is $54,000 per contravention for a corporation, and $10,800 per contravention for an  individual. Where the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court of Australia determines that a person has contravened the unlawful discrimination protections under the Fair Work Act 2009, the court may make any order that it considers appropriate, including orders for injunctions, reinstatement and/or compensation.


What can you do?

If you believe that you have been unlawfully discriminated against in your employment, you can lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Ombudsman. You may also be able to lodge an application with the Fair Work Commission. If you have not been dismissed but allege that there has been a contravention of the unlawful discrimination protection provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009, you may also make an application to the Fair Work Commission to deal with the dispute. 

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What can we do?



Discrimination means treating a person or group less favourably than another person or group due to their circumstances or personal characteristics.


To effectively remove discrimination from a workplace, it takes everyone to be on board. There should be clear, fair and efficient processes in place to deal with it if it arises.

Here are some strategies to help:

  • educate all employees about discrimination;
  • encourage employees to respect each other’s differences;
  • report or respond to any evidence or complaints of inappropriate behaviour;
  • deal with any complaints of discrimination promptly and confidentially;
  • develop a workplace policy that prohibits discrimination;
  • train supervisors and managers on how to respond to discrimination in the workplace;
  • make sure the workplace policy is properly enforced; and
  • review the policy regularly to ensure that its effectiveness is maintained.

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