Sex discrimination

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their sex.

Sex discrimination includes:

  • treating a person less favourably because of their sex than someone in similar circumstances of a different sex;
  • imposing an unreasonable requirement or condition which disadvantages people of  a particular sex.

The sex discrimination provisions cover all aspects of work (recruitment, terms and conditions on which a job is offered, employment benefits, training, transfers, promotion and dismissal) as well as when a person is in a shop or restaurant, at school or college, looking for accommodation, applying for credit, insurance or a loan, or when dealing with tradespeople, businesses or state or local government.

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Sex discrimination examples

  • A woman who was an efficient senior manager in a male dominated industry was continually ridiculed by another manager and her position undermined. She was called 'mother hen' and her unit referred to as 'the nursery'.
  • A man was refused entry to a beauty therapist course because he wasn't considered 'suitable' as a male.
  • A woman arranging for a quote for major building work at her home was told it would be necessary for her husband to be present for the quote.
  • A hospital refused to appoint a qualified male midwife because of in house opposition.
  • A female diesel fitter apprentice was only given menial tasks rather than the full range given to the male apprentices, and was subjected to comments from her supervisor about women not being suitable for that kind of work.

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Motive for discriminating is irrelevant

The Act states that:

  • It is not necessary that the person who discriminates considers the treatment is less favourable.
  • The person's motive for discriminating is irrelevant.

None of the following reasons are acceptable for discriminating on the grounds of sex:

  • An employer has a personal preference for working with either men or women.
  • A particular gender would 'fit in' better with existing staff.
  • The work is not 'suitable' for a particular sex.
  • Women are 'better suited' to particular kinds of work, such as in reception areas or behind a counter.
  • There is a lot of heavy lifting, so only a man could do the job.

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Sex discrimination exemptions

Competitive sport

It is not unlawful to restrict participation to either males or females, if the restriction is reasonable having regard to the strength, stamina or physique requirements of the activity. However, this exemption does not apply to sporting activities for children under the age of 12 years.


  • A soccer club has one competition with mixed teams of both boys and girls up to the age of 12 years, and after that players are placed in men's or women's teams.

Single sex schools

It is not unlawful for an educational authority to operate an educational institution for students of a particular sex.

Welfare measures

It is not unlawful to do an act to benefit the members of a group of people of a particular sex.


  • A local Council may provide funding for a Men's Shed to be run by men and for men only.
  • A fitness centre is staffed by women and run for women only.

Equal opportunity measures

It is not unlawful to do an act to promote equality of opportunity for people of a particular sex.


  • A university advertises a scholarship for women in engineering.

Work in a person's own home

It is not unlawful for a person to discriminate on the basis of sex, when employing someone in their own home to perform domestic services, or look after their children.


  • A man engaging a personal carer to work in his home, may advertise for a person of a particular sex.

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Genuine occupational requirement

The Act provides an exemption which allows a job to be restricted to one sex, where the sex of the worker is a genuine occupational requirement. A genuine occupational requirement exists when the essential nature of the job, or particular duties attached to the job, call for a member of one sex. It is lawful to discriminate in recruitment, training, promotion and transfer in a job for which the sex of a worker is a genuine occupational requirement.


  • Selecting an actor of a particular sex for dramatic performances or other entertainment, for reasons of authenticity. A man might be required to play Father Christmas.
  • Considering only women applicants for a position involving body searches of women.

Religious bodies

The Act does not apply in relation to the training or education of people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order.

Sites of cultural or religious significance

A person may restrict access to land or a building of cultural or religious significance to people of a particular sex in accordance with the culture concerned or the doctrine of the religion concerned.

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Shared accommodation

It is not unlawful for a person to discriminate on the basis of sex, when deciding who is to reside in accommodation that forms part of their home.


  • A woman may advertise for a female tenant to share her unit.

Single sex accommodation

It is not unlawful for a person to discriminate on the basis of sex if the other person is required to live in accommodation supplied by the first person and the accommodation is not equipped with separate accommodation for each sex, and to provide it would impose unjustifiable hardship.


  • A property providing seasonal accommodation for shearers may not be obliged to provide separate accommodation for male and female shearers.
  • An educational authority which operates a single sex educational institution may provide accommodation for only that sex.

Club membership benefits

The Act permits 'reasonable sex discrimination' by non-for-profit clubs (established for social, literary, cultural, political, sporting, athletic, recreational or a community service purpose) if males and females cannot practically enjoy the benefit at the same time and an equivalent access or benefit is provided.


  • A golf club establishes 'ladies' days' or 'men's days' when only people of that sex may book to play golf.

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Information and enquiry service

Individuals, employers and business operators can access the Commission's statewide telephone information and enquiry service.

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Making a complaint

Make a complaint to the Commission on the Complaint Form about sex discrimination.

The complaint must be lodged with the Commission within 1 year of the discrimination happening.

The Commission's service is free.

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