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What is workplace discrimination?

A worker has been discriminated against if they were dismissed or demoted by an employee, denied access to opportunities, or subjected to other detriment because of a 'protected attribute'. In Australia, protected attributes include sex, race, disability and age. 

Workplace discrimination can happen to employees, managerial staff and executives at any level. Our expert employment lawyers have successfully acted for employees who have been discriminated against because of their gender, pregnancy, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, race and disability.

Who can make a workplace discrimination claim?

Under the relevant federal law or similar state legislation, a claim for workplace discrimination can be made with the relevant federal tribunal (or similar State Commission) if an employer takes adverse action against an employee or prospective employee because of their:

  • race
  • colour
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • age 
  • physical or mental disability 
  • marital status
  • family or carer’s responsibilities 
  • pregnancy
  • religion
  • political opinion
  • national extraction or social origin.

In addition, the Fair Work Act has particular protection against adverse action because you made a complaint or an inquiry in relation to your employment.

If an employer takes adverse action towards you because of any of the above attributes, you may be able to make a discrimination or adverse action claim. Our employment lawyers will be able to explain your rights and your options to you in an initial consultation.

Discrimination and adverse action are defined broadly, and can encompass any detriment you suffer in your employment. 

All employees are covered against workplace discrimination and adverse action - including full time, part time and casual employees, probationary employees, apprentices and trainees, and individuals employed for fixed periods of time or tasks.


What should I do if I am being discriminated against at work?

Keep a diary

Take notes of all discriminatory treatment, including when it happens and who the perpetrator is.

Be informed

Make sure you have a copy of your contract of employment, enterprise agreement and workplace policies and procedures.

Contact your union

If you are a union member, contact them. Many unions are experienced in dealing with workplace discrimination.

Address the situation early

Employees who are subject to discrimination often put the issue to one side and wait before it gets really bad before addressing it. By this time the employee may have already suffered a work-related stress injury; if this is the case, they may not be able to continue working.

Speak to your OH&S representative

Get advice about procedures in your workplace.

Take care of your health

Your mental and physical health is very important. If workplace discrimination, bullying or harassment is affecting you, make sure you see your doctor about it.

Seek advice

Working out which legal or practical decisions to make can be difficult with workplace discrimination cases. Our employment lawyers can provide support and advice on a range of legal and personal matters.


Our workplace discrimination success stories

We are Australia’s leading employment law practice for executives, senior managers, employees and contractors. Here are some examples of our successful cases:

  • Commencing proceedings on behalf of a number of women sexually harassed by a High Court Judge.
  • Initiated proceedings in the Federal Court on behalf of Scott McIntyre alleging that he was dismissed by SBS because of his expression of a political opinion.
  • Successfully negotiated a six figure settlement for a woman employed in a senior position by a large multinational company. She was terminated after making complaints about discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, despite having an exceptional performance record.
  • Commenced Federal Court proceedings and successfully resolved a claim for an employee who had been dismissed and subject to discrimination due to his workplace injury.
  • Successfully negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement for a senior executive employed in the property industry who was unlawfully discriminated against after taking a period of parental leave.
  • Successfully obtained an injunction for our client Nicole McIntyre, in McIntyre v Hastings Deering (Australia) Ltd and Anor [2012] QCAT 438. Her employer had attempted to change her working hours, which would have had adverse effects on her family responsibilities meaning she would have to resign. The injunction was ordered against her employer, restraining it from changing her working hours until her complaint about the alleged discrimination was resolved.
  • Successfully resolved a discrimination case on behalf of a senior Victorian police officer dismissed for discriminatory reasons.
  • Obtained an injunction preventing a hospital from continuing with a performance management plan on the basis that it would have unlawfully discriminated against our client because of his ADHD. The matter was ultimately resolved to the client’s satisfaction.

While most of our clients' cases are resolved promptly and discreetly via negotiations, our employment lawyers also have an excellent record of successful dispute resolutions in discrimination matters. This may include making a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission or a relevant State authority. We can assist you in choosing the right jurisdiction and guide you through the complaints process. Our highly experienced employment lawyers are recognised for excellence in Doyle’s ‘Guide to the Australian Legal Profession’.

We're by your side

Our employment law team has an outstanding record of achieving successful outcomes for employees in both the private and public sector. We know how to navigate this increasingly complex and ever-changing area of the law.


Book an initial consultation with an employment lawyer. Your first consultation costs $690 (incl GST).


At your one hour consult, your employment lawyer will provide advice on your situation, the best action to take, and next steps. 


Most of our cases are resolved out of court, and discretion is assured.

'Maurice Blackburn has won more than $3 million in unpaid wages and entitlements for our clients while continuing to pursue 7-Eleven franchisees to recover money that is owed to the workers.'

Mohammad's story
Employment law

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Our Canberra office is now closed, but our team continues to serve ACT clients and are available for phone and video appointments. If you need legal advice, please call us on 1800 675 346.

We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.