Discrimination is the act of treating another individual unfavourably on the basis of personal characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity, race, physical appearance, disability, religion, colour or sexual orientation and so on. Fortunately, society has come a long way from the days when it was common to treat someone with disdain and condescension just because they were different from you. Australia prides itself on being a nation that is becoming increasingly inclusive of people of different races, ethnicities, colour and sexual orientation. Modern laws and policies are striving to promote appreciation of diversity and discourage strongly negative thinking. Workplaces are more welcoming and friendlier than they used to be in the past. Although discrimination and harassment are often used in the same breath, they are, in fact, different from one another.

Unfortunately, despite significant steps forward, discrimination rears its ugly head in Australian workplaces more often than we’d like to admit. Derogatory beliefs about other socio-ethnic groups and individuals of varied sexual orientation is still widely prevalent. Similarly, Australians also admit to instances of age discrimination; you are often rejected for prospective positions because you are thought of as too old to learn new skills (this again is a presumption based on belief rather than facts). The truth is that managers and employers need to be aware of what constitutes discrimination and how to ensure that your employees are treated fairly. Failing to do so not only undermines your image but may also put you at higher risk for punitive action under Australian law. For example, rejecting a candidate because she is pregnant (even though she is qualified for the job) can be viewed as discrimination.

Similarly, paying an employee less compared to others because he belongs to a different ethnicity is direct discrimination. According to 2017 statistics related to discriminations, the Australian Human Rights Commission reports that 78% of complaints filed were against sexual discrimination while 33% of complaints were related to disability discrimination. In reality, the number of cases could be far higher. Many employees choose not to complain because they are not aware that they can take lawful steps against the employer. As an employer, you must ensure that your company follows fair practices when it comes to treating every employee equally.

Direct discrimination is often due to unfair and unjust presumptions about what someone can do based on their personal characteristics or choices. What happens more commonly is indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination occurs when an employee is put at a disadvantage due to personal characteristics but the employer is seemingly protected by law. It’s more difficult to pinpoint such culprits and obtain justice for indirect discrimination because it involves thorough verification of facts.

Discrimination can occur in the form of gender and age discrimination too. According to Australian Fair Work Act, if it is proved that an employer’s present or past discriminatory practices have resulted in adverse actions for the employee (or prospective employee), the employer may be liable to punitive action. Adverse actions include dismissal, injury or emotional trauma, loss of pay and so on.

As a responsible and accountable employer or manager, you may wish to ensure that your workplace is free of direct or indirect discrimination.

At ESN, we take pride in offering our trustworthy and competent HR consulting, investigative and training services for our esteemed clients. If you suspect that you have been discriminated against or you want to ensure that your company does not breach discriminatory laws, feel free to contact us. Our seasoned consultants will be happy to examine situations and recommend solutions.