Discrimination in the Workplace

Discrimination in employment is unlawful. As per the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, employers and employees are prohibited from discriminating against workplace colleagues based on their race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, disability or religious belief. It can be difficult to determine what constitutes discrimination in employment. For example, certain actions might not seem discriminatory at first glance but could be perceived that way by another person. It’s important to know your rights and understand that the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 strictly prohibits discrimination in any form. Here are some examples of conduct that may constitute discrimination in employment:

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination is any action which treats a person less favourably than another because of their sex, age, marital status, personal appearance or sexual orientation. What is Discrimination Against?  Discrimination against people with disabilities. Such conduct might include discrimination against someone who has a disability by virtue of their impairment, the condition of the environment, the education system, public transport and the hiring, employment or employment conditions of employers.  Section 3: What is Discrimination Against a Minor?  Discrimination against a person who is under 18 years of age or a person who is a person of unsound mind (Section 12). This is an extension to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Conduct that may constitute discrimination

If an employee requires a male personal assistant but he is given a female assistant when the job calls for a male personal assistant, then this could be considered a form of discrimination, as a female assistant could be perceived as an extension of the employer’s body.  If an employee orders alcohol for staff at a workplace function, it could be viewed as discrimination if they are not provided with alcohol when the staff, they order it for are supplied with it.  If a manager tells an employee to return to work or to work extra hours without providing notice, it may be perceived as discrimination.  If an employee makes derogatory remarks about an employee based on their race, sex, sexual preference, age, disability or religion, it could be deemed discrimination.

How to Prevent Discrimination from Occurring

Employees should be aware of their rights under the act. This includes the right to sue for damages if someone fails to give you a reasonable opportunity to prove your claim of discrimination. The right to remain silent doesn’t protect you.  If you believe you’ve been a victim of discrimination or harassment, you must first make a formal complaint to your boss or human resources department. If you don’t, your employer could be accused of discrimination. If your employer fails to investigate your complaint or hear your complaint in good faith, you have the right to take the matter to an internal tribunal.  If you feel you are being discriminated against, the following may help you:  Acknowledge your experiences with management and colleagues.

Know your rights

As per the Equal Opportunity (Employment and Other Operational Provisions) Act 2015, employees are entitled to be protected from discrimination in employment. This act also makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against their employees when it comes to: 

  • Service conditions 
  • Work rosters 
  • Dispensation of holidays 
  • Orientation or employment relationship 
  • Pay 

There are strict guidelines to follow if you feel you are being discriminated against at work. If you feel you have been discriminated against, report it to your manager. Do not assume that your employer will take any action based on your experience. The act of reporting discrimination is itself an act of courage and character and is an effective tool in preventing future mistreatment and disadvantage.

Know the different types of discrimination

Workers are required to maintain confidentiality, so it is important to ensure you maintain your confidentiality at work. To protect confidentiality, inform your manager and the HR department as soon as you become aware that any colleague has spoken about your or has disclosed information about you to the media. Always report any instance of discrimination or harassment to your manager or the relevant department.  On-the-job discrimination against a colleague based on the work they perform, what they wear, or how they behave (for example, overbooking, not being at the correct workstations) is illegal and may result in the termination of your employment.


Employers who tolerate or participate in discriminatory behaviour in their workplace are in breach of their legal responsibilities. Fines for not doing so can be substantial, and victims of discrimination may also pursue civil claims, with high success rates.