What does the law say?
The law (the Queensland Anti-Discrimination
Act 1991) is about fairness -
it doesn't matter what sex, race or age you are, if you have an
impairment or what political beliefs you have - you're entitled
to be treated fairly.
The Anti-Discrimination Commission administers the law which protects
everyone from unfair discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification
in many parts of their lives.
When is it against the law?
The Act says it is against the law to treat you unfairly because
- relationship or parental status
- religious belief or activity
- political belief or activity
- trade union activity
- lawful sexual activity
- breastfeeding needs
- family responsibilities
- gender identity
It's also against the law to treat you unfairly because you are
linked to someone from one of these groups. For example, if you
have to leave a café because your breastfeeding friend
has been asked to leave, it is unlawful, and you, as well as your
friend, could lodge a complaint with this Commission.
Which parts of life are covered?
The Act covers you if you are treated unfairly when you:
- apply for a job, or try to get into a course
- are at work, school, college or university
- buy things in shops, hotels etc.
- rent a flat, house, caravan or motel room
- apply for credit or a loan
- use any business, trade or professional services
- use services provided by your city or shire council or the
- deal with superannuation or insurance companies
- buy land
If you wanted to lodge a complaint with us, you'd need to show
you were treated badly or unlawfully on one of the grounds (e.g.
race) and in one of the areas (e.g.
at work) and tell us how you were affected by it.
Is all discrimination against the law?
No. The law is very clear. No matter how unfair the treatment
is, it must be covered by the Act before we can deal with it.
So the Commission could not deal with a complaint if, for example,
you were treated unfairly because of your physical appearance,
or because the unfairness happened in another state, or because
of bullying in your workplace.
What about bullying?
Bullying as such is not covered under the Act. The only way we
could accept a complaint about bullying is if it is linked to
one of the grounds covered by the Act. If, for example, the bullying
is based on your impairment, or your sex, then we could take a
Otherwise, you might want to contact the Division of Workplace
Health and Safety (if it concerns health or safety), the Queensland
Working Women's Service (for advice and information) or the Queensland
Industrial Relations Commission (if it's an industrial issue).
Are there any exceptions?
Yes. Again, the law is clear about this. Exceptions, or exemptions,
are allowed in some cases. In many of these cases, it is just
common sense. For example, it is lawful to set aside parking spaces
for people with an impairment, or to take some actions to help
level the playing field, such as allowing only Indigenous people
to apply for certain jobs.
Direct and indirect discrimination
Most unfair treatment is clear, for instance not getting a job
because you're told you're too old, or not being able to rent
a flat because you and your partner aren't married, but sometimes
it is less obvious.
Sometimes, a policy or rule seems fair because it applies to
everyone, but a closer look shows that some people are being treated
For example, an employer might have a policy of not letting staff
work part-time. This policy could impact unfairly on people who
have children and can't work full-time, and may be against the
law. This is called indirect discrimination, and is against the
law, where it can be shown that the rule isn't reasonable in all
the details of the case.
What about sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual attention that is offensive
in some way. It is against the law whenever and wherever it happens.
Vilification because of your race, religion, sexuality or gender identity is also covered under the Act. This is the sort
of public behaviour which incites people to hate others because
of their race, religion, sexuality or gender identity.
Who is responsible?
Anyone who discriminates against anyone else, sexually harasses
or vilifies them, is responsible and may be liable under the law.
An employer can also be held liable for any unfair treatment done
by their workers. Complaints can be made against either or both.
Employers can defend themselves against this vicarious
liability by showing they took reasonable steps to reduce
or stop the discrimination from happening.
While these steps aren't listed in the Act, they could include:
having policy about not discriminating, harassing or vilifying
others in the workplace: training staff, especially supervisors
and managers in this policy, and about the Act: having a process
in place for dealing with complaints in the workplace.
Employers can't argue that they didn't know what was going on
in the workplace, in order to defend this liability.
What can I do?
If you believe you have been treated unfairly, you can do a number
- Try talking to the person involved. Sometimes people just
need a reminder about their behaviour, or to be told when they've
stepped over the line. This won't work in every case, however,
and you may not feel comfortable about doing it at all.
- If the behaviour happens at work, you might want to speak
to your manager, or a union rep or someone you trust. You might
also want to find out whether your employer deals with complaints,
and if they do, you may want to lodge one.
- Contact the Anti-Discrimination Commission. We have staff
who can answer questions about your case, give you information
about the Act, and refer you to other agencies. As a result
of talking to our staff, you may decide to lodge a complaint.
What happens if I do lodge a complaint?
You need to lodge your signed complaint in writing within one
year of the behaviour happening. It must refer to one of the grounds
and one of the areas covered by the Act (unless it is about sexual
harassment or vilification).
You need to give us enough detail for us to assess whether there
may have been a breach of the Act, so include your full details,
and those of the person or organisation you're complaining about.
Give us dates, names of other people present, and any other information
you think would be useful in helping to assess your complaint.
If we assess your complaint as falling within the Act, it will
be dealt with seriously, confidentially and independently. There
is no charge for this, although if you decide to seek legal or
other advice, there may be costs involved.
What else do I need to know?
- This brochure only touches on some aspects of the Act. If
you need to know more, please contact one of our offices and
talk to an Enquiry Officer.
- There are federal laws about discrimination, sexual harassment
and vilification. You could call the Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission in Sydney, on 1300 656 419 for more information.
- We have
brochures on other discrimination issues which are available
from all our offices or from this website.
- You might be interested in having an information session
on the Act in your workplace, or attending one of the courses
we run . You can call one of our offices for more information
about this, or again, check the website.
This information is intended
as a guide only. It is not a substitute for legal advice. For
more information contact
the Commission on 1300 130 670 statewide or Teletypewriter
1300 130 680 statewide.