Workplace discrimination

It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee. This includes full time, part time and casual employees, probationary employees, apprentices and trainees, and individuals employed for fixed periods of time or tasks.

Unlawful workplace discrimination occurs when an employer (or an employee on their behalf), takes adverse action against a person who is an employee or prospective employee because of the following attributes of the person:

  • race
  • colour
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • age
  • physical or mental disability
  • marital status
  • family or carer’s responsibilities
  • pregnancy
  • religion
  • political opinion
  • national extraction or social origin

Adverse action taken by an employer includes doing, threatening or organising any of the following:

  • dismissing an employee
  • injuring an employee in their employment
  • altering an employee’s position to their detriment
  • discriminating between one employee and other employees
  • refusing to employ a prospective employee
  • discriminating against a prospective employee on the terms and conditions in the offer of employment.

Treating someone differently in the workplace may not necessarily be unlawful discrimination (for example, if an employee is placed on a performance management plan to develop his skills and his or her daily duties have been changed while they undergo further training).

Similarly, in some circumstances, an action may not be considered discrimination if it:

  • is permissible under state or territory anti-discrimination laws
  • is based on the inherent requirements of the particular position concerned
  • is taken against a staff member of an institution run in accordance with religious beliefs, and the action is taken in good faith and to avoid injury to those religious beliefs.

Bullying or harassment may not constitute unlawful discrimination, unless the behaviour can be shown to be adverse action linked to one of the attributes listed above. However, bullying or harassment (if not found to be discriminatory), may be unlawful under occupational health and safety laws.

It is important that employers respond quickly and appropriately to complaints of serious misconduct or workplace discrimination. Employers must also remain flexible in relation to complaint handling processes where the complainant’s first language may not be English, or where cultural barriers may exist. If employers have credible, relevant, and sufficient information to commence an investigation, they should do so without delay.


WISE Workplace can quickly assist you to conduct a preliminary enquiry or full investigation into any complaint of discrimination or harassment.


For more information about how WISE Workplace can assist you, please call us on 1300 580 685 or email [email protected]