A Brief Overview of Discrimination Laws

by | Sep 16, 2021 | Workplace & Employment

Discrimination law has been something of a hot topic in Australia in recent months. The legality of workplace-mandated vaccines and ‘no jab, no job’ policies has sparked heated debate.

More recently the Federal Government’s Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill, which recently passed the Senate, has been the target of criticism for failing to incorporate a number of recommendations from the Respect@Work Report aimed at providing greater protections from workplace sexual harassment.

Discrimination laws in Australia

At a Federal level, discrimination laws are contained in legislation such as the Race Discrimination Act 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Age Discrimination Act 2004. States and territories have also implemented their own anti-discrimination legislation. In Victoria the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 prohibits a wide range of discrimination, which overlaps somewhat with the Federal legislative scheme.

What is discrimination?

Generally speaking, the Equal Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of an ‘attribute’ in education, sport, accommodation and the provision of goods or services.

An attribute is a characteristic of a person on the basis of which that person may not be discriminated against. The Equal Opportunity Act prescribes a number of attributes, including but not limited to race, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability and pregnancy.

Next, discrimination can be either ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’.

Direct discrimination occurs if a person ‘treats, or proposes to treat, a person with an attribute unfavourably because of that attribute’. This could include, for example, choosing not to offer employment or accommodation to a person based on his race, sex, disability or other attribute.

Indirect discrimination occurs if a person imposes, or proposes to impose a requirement, condition or practice:

  • that disadvantages or is likely to disadvantage persons with an attribute; and
  • that is not reasonable.

The owner of a shopping complex could be found to be indirectly discriminating against disabled people by failing to have access ramps for people to use. The owner of the shopping complex would have to demonstrate that the lack of access ramps was not unreasonable to avoid being found to have indirectly discriminated against disabled people.

Though it appears simple at first glance, discrimination law can be a complex area of the law due to the overlapping federal and state legislation, exceptions, and even difficulties in identifying discrimination in the first place.

If you suspect that you have been discriminated against or if allegations of discrimination have been made against you please contact our workplace relations lawyer office on (03) 9614 7111 or email melbourne@nevettford.com.au to obtain further advice on workplace litigation.