While the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 makes it against the law to discriminate against someone because of specific personal characteristics, it also recognises that discrimination may be justified in certain circumstances.
The Act includes general exceptions that apply to discrimination in all areas of public life. This means that discrimination may not be against the law in particular circumstances.
General exceptions apply to discrimination in all areas of public life, such as situations where discrimination is necessary to protect someone’s health and safety.
This information is a guide only. To avoid doubt about whether an exception might apply, please check the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 or seek further advice.
Discrimination authorised by court or law
Discrimination will be not be against the law if it is necessary to comply with an order of a court or tribunal, or is authorised by legislation.
Religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate against a person on the basis of a personal characteristic in certain circumstances that include:
- ordinating or appointing priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
- training or educating people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
- selecting or appointing people to perform functions relating to, or participating in, any religious observance or practice.
Religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity where the discrimination conforms to the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion or is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of people who follow the religion.
However, religious bodies and religious schools cannot discriminate on the grounds of race, disability, age, physical features, industrial or employment activity, carer status, political belief or activity, pregnancy, breastfeeding or on the basis of a personal association with a person with any protected characteristic.
Religious bodies and religious schools can also allow a person to discriminate against another person on the grounds of the person's religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity if the discrimination is reasonably necessary for the first person to comply with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of their religion.
The term ‘reasonably necessary’ requires an objective assessment of whether the discrimination is necessary.
Health and safety
Discrimination because of disability, pregnancy or physical features will not be against the law where it is necessary to protect the health and safety of any person, including the person being discriminated against. This exception also applies to discrimination because of disability or physical features where it is necessary to protect property.
A person can also discriminate by offering special services, benefits or facilities to meet the special needs of people with a particular personal characteristic. For example, a support group for single fathers can limit participation in the group to single fathers, or a holiday tour company can offer services for 18–30 year olds and restrict participation of younger or older people.
Specific exceptions only apply to certain areas of public life such as accommodation, clubs, education, employment, provision of goods and services, local government and sport.
They can also apply to specific personal characteristics protected by the law including age, disability, physical features, pregnancy and breastfeeding, race, racial and religious vilification and religious belief or activity.
For example, schools and other educational institutions may run programs for students of a particular sex, race, religious belief or age group, or for students with disability. The exception allows education providers to target their programs to the needs of particular groups. Students may be ineligible for such programs if they do not have the relevant personal characteristic.
Some exceptions also work to identify and protect conduct that benefits disadvantaged or vulnerable groups.
The following information is a guide only and is not a full list of exceptions. To avoid doubt about whether an exception might apply, please check the the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 or seek further advice.
Exceptions in places of discrimination
Exceptions apply to certain areas of public life including:
- goods and services provision
- land sales and transfers
- local government
Exceptions in types of discrimination
Exceptions apply to specific personal characteristics protected by the law including: