Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 it is against the law for providers of goods and services to treat, or propose to treat, someone unfavourably because of a personal characteristic protected by law. It is also against the law for providers of goods and services to sexually harass someone.
What does goods and services provision cover?
Goods and services includes:
- buying and selling items in shops and other outlets
- going to restaurants, bars and hotels, gyms, entertainment venues and cinemas
- accessing services from providers such as banks, insurance and superannuation companies, child care, medical practices, hospitals and other health services
- accessing services from other kinds of service providers.
The law also covers free services.
How can discrimination in goods and services happen?
Discrimination in the provision of goods and services includes:
- refusing to provide goods or services to you. For example, because you are breastfeeding
- offering different terms on which goods or services are provided to you. For example, because of your religion
- subjecting you to any other unfavourable treatment when providing goods or services.
Disability access to goods and services
Under theEqual Opportunity Act 2010 goods and services providers are required to make changes, known as reasonable adjustments, to allow people with disability to access goods and services on the same basis as others.
For example, a bank provides flexible ‘at home’ services for people with disability.
Making reasonable adjustments requires a goods and services provider to balance the need for change with the cost or effort required to make this change. If the cost or disruption is disproportionately high, the change is not likely to be reasonable.
Examples of discrimination in goods and services provision
A store requires Linh, who is vision impaired, to produce a driver’s licence as identification before it will accept her cheque to pay for goods. Linh is not eligible to have a licence because of her vision impairment. The store will not accept other forms of official identification that Linh offers.
Hussein and his friends are waiting in line at a nightclub. When they get to the front of the line the security guard calls them racially offensive names and won’t let them in because he says that people from their country ‘start all the fights around here’.
Are there any exceptions to the law?
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 includes some exceptions, which mean that discrimination will not be against the law in particular circumstances.
Positive steps can also be taken to help disadvantaged groups using special measures, which is not discrimination under the law.
If an exception or special measure does not apply, in some circumstances an exemption from the Act may be sought from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
The Act also includes specific exceptions in goods and services provision where discrimination may be permitted.
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 Act or seek further advice.
When adjustments are not reasonable
It may be lawful for goods or services providers to refuse to make reasonable adjustments to allow people with disability or physical features to access goods or services. In these circumstances a provider must show that either:
- it can't reasonably provide the goods or service in the way that is required, or
- if it does provide the goods or service in a special way that this would make access more difficult for people without the particular disability or physical feature that requires the change.
For example, it may be lawful for a supermarket not to change its freezer shelving to accommodate people of shorter height, or for a shop not to widen its doors to accommodate a person of large build.
It is not against the law for an insurer to make discriminatory decisions about the cost of insurance or other risks when insuring a particular person or group of people. However, these decisions must be based on an analysis of statistical data or other relevant factors, and must be reasonable in the circumstances.
This exception covers annuities, life assurance, accident insurance and illness insurance.
An insurer may also lawfully discriminate if the discrimination is allowed under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Commonwealth), the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Commonwealth) or the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Commonwealth).
Provision of credit
It is not against the law for a credit provider to discriminate on the basis of age when deciding who it will provide credit to and the terms on which it will provide credit. However, these decisions must be based on analysis of actuarial (calculations of risk) or statistical data and any other data that is reasonable for the credit provider to use.
Supervision of children
It is not against the law for service providers to require that children be accompanied or supervised by an adult if there is a reasonable risk that the children could cause disruption or endanger themselves.
For example, an amusement park may require adult supervision of children under a certain age to ensure that parents look after their children’s welfare and to keep children safe while in a busy or potentially dangerous environment.
Make a complaint to the Commission
If you think you have been discriminated against, sexually harassed, or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.
To make a complaint:
- contact us by phone, in person or email. We also have a free interpreter service
- submit your complaint online or download our complaint form (DOC, 230KB)
- chat to us online
Find out more about making a complaint.