Everyone has the right to work in an environment that is free
from harassment, bullying and discrimination. Discrimination on the
basis of race, gender, age, religion (or other protected attributes
– see below) violates someone's right to be treated with
respect, dignity and fairness.
Bullying, harassment and or discrimination can damage the
affected person's wellbeing, work performance and job security,
and it can be destructive to a business by creating a negative
It can expose an employer business to direct liability, where
the business engaged in the discrimination, or vicarious liability
for the discrimination engaged in by one of their employee's
where the employer cannot show that they (the employer) took
reasonable steps to prevent that discrimination from happening.
WHAT IS DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE?
Discrimination happens when you are treated less favourably than
others because of a personal attribute about you rather than your
ability to do the job.
It is unlawful to discriminate against someone due to their
Race, colour, national extraction or social origin
Sex, gender identity or sexual orientation
Physical, intellectual, mental or psychiatric disability
Pregnancy or potential pregnancy
Marital status, relationship status and family or carer's
Trade union activity
Examples of discrimination occurring in the workplace can
Being dismissed or having shifts cut down
Denial of training opportunities, transfers and promotions
Not being paid the same as someone doing the same job with the
same experience and qualifications
Exclusion or isolation by co-workers
Having information you need to do your job deliberately
Being given impossible tasks
Being subjected to taunts or abuse that references the
EXAMPLES OF WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION
Discrimination may be intentional or unintentional, direct or
indirect. Discrimination can come in the form of jokes and offhand
comments that seem harmless to or even go unnoticed by the
The below examples show some of the different ways in which
discrimination can occur in the workplace.
H3: Example 1
Mary is six months pregnant. After ten years working at an
accounting firm, she applies for a senior position that has just
opened up. Despite having more experience and qualifications than
the other applicants, she was passed over. When she asked the
manager, he said: "I need someone who will be more dedicated
to the position."
H3: Example 2
Ryan works on a construction site. His co-workers recently found
out he was gay and have started calling him
H3: Example 3
Annie works in a toy store and has a physical disability
preventing her from carrying heavy items. She recently found out
her co-workers earn more than her despite having the same
experience and working just as hard. When she asked her manager
about it, she said it was because "you just don't carry as
much weight around here."
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HARASSMENT, BULLYING AND
Discrimination occurs where someone is treated
less favourably due to a particular protected attribute, even if
the treatment isn't openly antagonistic – for example,
not getting a promotion because you are pregnant, or being the
subject of "joking banter" by reference to that protected
attribute – and even where it is indirect – for example
an employer may say they are open to employing people with
disabilities, but do not provide appropriate access.
Harassment is when someone is treated in a way
that is offensive, humiliating, intimidating or threatening because
of a particular attribute like coming from another country.
Sexual harassment is unwelcome advances or
attention of a sexual nature.
Bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour
that places the affected person's health or wellbeing at
Bullying and harassment are considered discriminatory behaviour
if they are motivated by a protected attribute of the victim, like
a disability. Example 2 shows a situation where harassment is
occurring due to discrimination.
FOSTERING A POSITIVE WORKPLACE CULTURE
It's important to ensure that employers foster a positive
workplace culture that is free of harassment, bullying and
discrimination. At MDC Legal, our specialist workplace lawyers use
their extensive experience in HR legal issues to help minimise the
risk of discrimination. We assist with the preparation of specific
policies and can deliver training or inductions.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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