Everyone is entitled to equal access to work opportunities and to be treated fairly at work, regardless of their age, sex, race, gender identity, disability, intersex status or sexual orientation.
A person's private life, whether they are in a relationship, pregnant, have caring responsibilities or choose to wear religious dress should also not prevent them from accessing employment.
This includes equal conditions at work and being treated fairly by your boss and co-workers.
Equal opportunity law applies not only to paid jobs but also to volunteering, work experience placements and apprenticeships or traineeships.
Your Rights at Work
All workers, even juniors and casuals, have workplace rights in South Australia. You have a right not to be discriminated against or harassed. You also have other rights.
Your employer should talk to you about your basic conditions:
- The award or agreement that you are covered by
- Type of employment - casual, part-time or full-time
- How much you will be paid
- What hours you will be working
- What type of work you will be doing and who will supervise you
- Occupational health, safety and welfare requirements
Here is an example of unfair treatment at work:
Kazumi, an international student did unpaid trial work at a café over a couple of busy weekends. When she completed the trial work, she was told she wasn’t up to scratch and was no longer required. Unless Kazumi was undertaking work experience through education, she was entitled to be paid.
Kazumi went to the Fair Work Ombudsman because it didn’t seem right. The Fair Work Ombudsman met with the café employer to explain their obligations for trial work and Kazumi was paid for the shifts that she worked.
Applying for a job
Naturally, someone who is considering you for a job will want to get to know you a bit. They might ask about your school, family or interests. However, employers should not ask questions that could be used to discriminate against you based on your personal characteristics. This is unlawful discrimination.
Examples of questions that might be used to discriminate include:
- What nationality are you?
- Does anyone in your family have a disability?
- Are you single?
- What contraception are you using?
- You’re not gay, are you?
- Do you have to wear that headscarf?
Employers can ask relevant questions, such as:
- Is there any medical reason why you would not be able to do this job?
- Do you have a criminal record?
- Are you legally entitled to work in Australia?
If you think you have been discriminated against as a result of questions asked at an interview, contact us for advice.
Employers can send you for a medical before deciding whether to offer you a job. Pre-employment medicals should only assess whether you can do the job you are applying for. If the medical shows that you can’t safely do the job, the employer can choose not to employ you.
Employers should not take into account any medical conditions that don’t affect your ability to do the specific job. That could include:
- An old injury that you have fully recovered from.
- An illness that is well controlled and will not cause a problem at work.
- A condition that causes you some restrictions, but not in anything you would have to do for the job; or
- The fact that you once made a workers’ compensation claim.
It is discrimination to use medical information to deny you a job that you are fit to do.
Work experience placements
Discrimination law applies to all workers, whether you are getting paid or not.
When you go on a work experience placement, you are entitled to the same protection against discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying as the paid staff. The same is true if you do volunteer work.
If you are discriminated against, bullied or harassed on a placement arranged by your school, let the school know straight away. They should take it up with the employer. If necessary for your safety, they should end the placement. The school should not send any other students there until they are sure the problem is fixed.
If you are discriminated against or sexually harassed, you can also lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission.
An employer doesn’t need to pay you when you are doing work experience through your school but if an employer engages you directly to do a trial shift, they do have to pay you.
Working in someone's home
You can have a job that is a private arrangement between two people. In other words, you are not working for a business or organisation. This could include babysitting, teaching someone to play the piano or coaching them at tennis. Discrimination law does not apply to this sort of work.
The thinking behind it is that equal opportunity law protects equal participation in public life, not in private life. Hiring someone to work for you privately, and not for a business that you run, is considered part of private life. This probably reflects a value position that people should be allowed to discriminate in their own homes if they want to.
Criminal law certainly does apply in people’s homes, because part of its purpose is to protect people’s safety.
With discrimination law, its purpose is to stop prejudice from standing in the way of a person’s opportunity to take part in wider society. Lawmakers decided it should not apply in all areas of life but laws can be changed any time if enough people want it.