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Discrimination at work

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Discrimination and harassment can take a number of different forms. There are broad-sweeping federal laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment against individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, and age, among other classifications, in a variety of situations. State and local laws may contain similar protections, and may also provide for protection in other situations. Many detailed laws address and prohibit, in particular, discrimination and harassment in the workplace. If you are an employee, and you feel you are being discriminated against or harassed by your employer or coworkers, what can you do?

Under the law, an employer cannot discriminate against you because of any of the following:
 
Gender
Age
Sexual orientation
Gender identity
Religious belief or activity
Political belief or activity
Marital status
Industrial activities (or lack of industrial activity)
Race or colour
Pregnancy or breastfeeding
Parental status
Carer status
Disability or impairment
Physical features
Personal association with someone who has, or is assumed to have, one of the above personal characteristics
 
Discrimination in employment can take many forms, including:
 
Being sacked from your job
Interference in your ability to do your job
Changing your job role to your disadvantage
Treating you differently from other employees
Refusing to employ you
Being offered different terms and conditions from others doing the same job

Make your employer aware that you feel you are being discriminated against or harassed. It is likely that many illegal acts of discrimination and harassment go unrecognized or unpunished because the victim does not make it clear that the conduct is unacceptable and unwelcome. Rare is the case where employers will readily admit to discrimination or harassment and help you to draft legal papers against them. Your employer is responsible for complying with the law, but you alone are responsible for making sure your personal rights are protected. (View Workplace Discrimination)

Note: If your immediate supervisor is the person you feel is being discriminatory or harassing, and you feel uncomfortable confronting him or her directly, report the matter to his or her superior or a human resources representative. Many employers have designated a specific managerial or human resources individual who is responsible for accepting complaints of discrimination and harassment. If that is the case in your situation, report your complaint directly to that individual.

Let your employer know that you are taking the matter seriously. Ask that a written report be made every time you report an incident of discrimination or harassment. Ask that an investigation be made into your allegations and that disciplinary or corrective action against the offenders be taken. Employers are required by law to give prompt consideration to all reports of discrimination and harassment.

Note: If you falsely report to your employer that you have been discriminated against or harassed by another employee or supervisor you could face ramifications, not the least of which may be an uncomfortable relationship with the individual you have accused.

If you receive no response from your employer, consider contacting the Fair Work Ombudsman, who has responsibility for overseeing compliance under the new system created by the Fair Work Act 2009. Getting the government involved in your case, and potentially having the Ombudsman`s office contact your employer, will most likely get someone's attention fairly quickly.
 
Keep a diary of any incidents of discrimination or harassment. Record the date, approximate time, location, parties involved, witnesses, and details of the improper conduct or speech.
 
Keep any objects or pictures which were posted, left for you, or given to you in the workplace that you believe were discriminatory or harassing.
 
Note: If an item is posted on a bulletin board, wall, refrigerator, or other common and visible area in your workplace, and you find it harassing, you may confiscate it or make a copy of it. By posting the item in a "public place" the perpetrator has allowed others to see it and, consequently, you have the right to remove it or copy it.
 
Review your company's anti-discrimination policy. The fact that your employer may have put it in writing, and acknowledged that it will not act in discriminatory ways may serve to benefit your position. If you have a copy of the policy in a handbook or other handout, retain a copy of it.
 
Review any federal and state laws to see what your rights are. These laws are available at law libraries, some general libraries, and on the Internet.
 
Retain a Lawyer. An lawyer can help you sort through the complex laws which may apply, can guide you through the complexities of the legal process, and can also (and perhaps most importantly) remain a calm and collected, effective advocate for your rights. Discrimination or harassment is an awful thing which tears at the emotions of the person who is being discriminated against or harassed and, in some cases, it becomes difficult to separate from those emotions and face the realities and boundaries of the legal system. An attorney, while striving to help you and concerned for your fate, can also look at the big picture more clearly and can help you stay focused on protecting your rights and repairing your emotions.
 
For further information or assistance contact us on (08) 9355 5822.

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