Federal Discrimination Protections

Contributed by Kezlee Gray, ACT Human Rights Commission and current to April 2018.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is able to investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination, harassment and bullying about breaches of the following Federal laws which apply across all Australian States and Territories.

Race Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)

Race discrimination or vilification complaints can be made where a person has been treated less favourably due to their colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, immigrant status, or where they have been subject to racial hatred.

Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)

Complaints of sex discrimination can include where a person has been treated less favourably due to their pregnancy, marital relationship status (including same-sex and de facto couples), breastfeeding, family responsibilities sexual harassment, gender identity, intersex status, and sexual orientation.

Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)

Disability discrimination complaints can be made where a person has been treated less favourably due to their disability, and/or adjustments have not been made for their disability in an area of public life that is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. Disability includes temporary and permanent disability, physical, intellectual, sensory, and psychiatric disabilities, diseases, illnesses, medical conditions, work-related injuries, past present and future disabilities, and ‘association’ with a person with a disability.

Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth)

People who have been treated less favourably than other people without the attribute of a particular age (for example because they are a young person, or an older person) can make age discrimination complaints.

More information is available at the AHRC website at https://www.humanrights.gov.au/

Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)

The Fair Work Act provides protection from workplace discrimination where employers take ‘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.
If a person believes they or other employees have been unlawfully discriminated against on any of these grounds in employment, help can be sought from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). The FWO can investigate allegations, and may commence litigation against a national system employer for contravening the Fair Work Act.

A person may also be able to lodge an application with the Fair Work Commission if they have not been dismissed but allege that there has been a contravention of the unlawful discrimination protection provisions of the Fair Work Act.

If a person has been dismissed and believes that it is because of one of the attributes covered by the Fair Work Act listed above they can make an application to the Fair Work Commission but must do so within 21 days of their employment being terminated.

More information is available from the FWO’s website at https://www.fairwork.gov.au/ and the FWC’s website at https://www.fwc.gov.au/

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