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How can you tell if you’re being discriminated against or disadvantaged?

01/03/2022

Everyone has the right to a safe work environment free from discrimination. In Australia, employers must not take adverse action against an employee, or prospective employee, because of the person’s 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 you feel that you are being disadvantaged in the workplace due to a protected attribute, then you may be being discriminated against.

The best way to test this is to consider whether there are other motivations for the disadvantage you experience. For example, could the disadvantage be due to experience or performance? If not, then it may be motivated by an illegal reason. More obvious forms of discrimination are easier to identify – such as dismissal or missing a promotion, however subtle forms exist. This could extend to not receiving invitations to work-related social gatherings, not being invited to participate in training or development activities, or even being greeted differently to your peers. It is important to note that treating someone differently is not necessarily unlawful discrimination. Different treatment such as general performance management may not be unlawful discrimination unless it is motivated by one or more protected attributes.

Discrimination can also occur during the interview process, especially when an interviewer makes assumptions about a candidate due to appearance. This discrimination can be conscious and overt or sub-conscious where an interview is unaware of their bias against a candidate.

Discrimination on the basis of protected attributes is illegal, so a grievance is justified and should be addressed. Generally, the first step is to address the complaint internally with a manager or human resources. If an employee does not feel comfortable raising their complaint with management or human resources or they have done so unsuccessfully, they can escalate their matter to the state or federal human rights commission.

Employers should have processes to ensure complaints are appropriately responded to when they arise. Taking steps such as developing a workplace policy that prohibits discrimination and encouraging workers to respect each other’s differences can help prevent workplace discrimination. It is important employers remain aware of their obligations as they change and develop over time.