What is discrimination in the workplace?

Every person deserves to feel safe and respected in their workplace. No person should ever face a lesser opportunity for success in their job or […]

By John Christian – May 31, 2023
Workplace discrimination image - Victor Legal

Every person deserves to feel safe and respected in their workplace. No person should ever face a lesser opportunity for success in their job or be rejected following a job interview due to characteristics unique to them. Queensland’s anti-discrimination laws very clearly outline the requirement for employers to offer equal employment opportunities to people at every stage of their employment, from the very beginning of the recruitment process right through to their day-to-day duties, learning and development, promotions, and even through to their resignation, dismissal, or redundancy. Unfair treatment is not tolerated by these laws, which are strictly governed by the Queensland Human Rights Commission. 

The Queensland Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1991. The Commission’s role is to deal with complaints of discrimination and other contraventions of the legislation, including instances of discrimination concerning employment. The QHRC provides a list of attributes that form the basis of prohibitions against discrimination in Queensland. These include:

  • sex
  • relationship status
  • pregnancy
  • parental status
  • breastfeeding
  • age
  • race
  • impairment
  • religious belief or activity
  • political belief or activity
  • trade union activity
  • lawful sexual activity
  • gender identity
  • sexuality
  • family responsibilities
  • association with, or relation to, a person identified on the basis of any of these attributes.

The Anti-Discrimination Act makes it illegal for anyone to be discriminated against in seeking, carrying out, and/or leaving their employment. The law applies to everyone, no matter what capacity of work they are employed in. It is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees who are full-time, part-time, casual, voluntary, contract, temporary, or under any other arrangement. 

Discrimination has lasting effects on all parties involved, but it is the victims who are inevitably the ones who suffer most. Discrimination in the workplace can leave victims feeling isolated and can have devastating consequences for their mental health. Victims also face enormous hurdles when seeking help for workplace discrimination. It can be emotionally difficult to report discrimination to a boss or colleague when, in many cases, that person may be the perpetrator of the discriminatory behaviour. When complaints are made to the Queensland Human Rights Commission, the process can often feel drawn-out and invasive. Should the victim seek legal representation, there is then the added stress of financial costs. 

While it is disproportionately the victims who face the highest detriment, workplace discrimination can also be significantly damaging to employers. The negative effects of discrimination in the workplace can lead to damage to team morale, the loss of knowledgeable and highly skilled staff, the financial costs of recruiting and training replacements for departing staff, as well as a substantial loss of productivity. Yes, the legal obligations on employers to provide a workplace that is free from discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification, and bullying exist to protect employees, but it is ultimately also in that employer’s best interests to provide such safeguards for their staff.  

What isn’t discrimination?

On the Business Queensland website, discrimination is described as:

“any practice that makes distinctions between individuals or groups to disadvantage some and advantage others”. 

It’s worth noting that under Queensland’s discrimination laws, not all discrimination is unlawful, and further, not all treatment by employers that might seem unfair is against the law. The Act provides a range of exemptions that can apply in very specific circumstances. These exemptions make some instances of discrimination lawful, but only in very limited situations. Whilst these exemptions don’t always automatically apply, there are some common exceptions that many people are aware of as part of their day-to-day lives, such as an exemption to provide the most accessible parking spaces exclusively for people with disabilities. Work and work-related discrimination in the Act refer to recruitment processes, terms and conditions of an employment contract, employment benefits, training, transfers, promotions, and dismissal. Workplaces can occasionally impose specific characteristics on prospective employees based on genuine occupational requirements. For example, an actor might be employed based on their age, gender, or race in order for their character in the production to remain authentic. Lawful discrimination in the workplace can also look like job advertisements that state that the position is only open to applications from Indigenous people or to people of a specified gender. These types of exemptions allow the complex needs of our diverse society to be met adequately. 

Brisbane’s Best Employment Lawyer

If you’ve faced discrimination in the workplace, it’s important that you know you’re not alone. There are resources and people out there to assist you. Obtaining legal advice or representation can feel like a daunting step to take, but Victor Legal has substantial experience in the field of employment discrimination law in Queensland. We take the time to understand all aspects of every case and can guide you through it with empathy and understanding. As one of Brisbane’s best workplace discrimination law firms, you can have confidence in our ability to advocate on your behalf. Contact our team today to discuss your situation confidentially.

Article by John Christian, Principal Lawyer, Founder and Director of Victor Legal

John has extensive experience in complex civil and commercial dispute resolution and litigation matters, specialising in:

Building and construction disputes
Complex litigation
Contract drafting and review
Dispute Resolution
Commercial Law
Corporate insolvency
Securities and caveats
Debt collection
Contract disputes
Commercial and risk mitigation advice

Share this post

Subscribe for updates

Stay up to date with the latest legal news.