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Race discrimination - Workplace

It is against the law to discriminate against anyone in the workplace because of their actual or assumed race.

Employees are protected from discrimination at all stages of employment including recruitment, workplace terms and conditions and dismissal

Race includes colour, descent, nationality, ancestry or ethnic background or any characteristics associated with a particular race.

Examples of race discrimination

George unsuccessfully applies for a position with a construction company. When he telephones the company’s personnel manager to ask why he did not get the position, George is told: ‘We’ve employed people from your country before. You lot simply don’t share our work ethic’.

Li-Huei unsuccessfully applies for a job as a receptionist with a large hotel. When she calls the human resources manager to ask why she did not get the job, she is told that the manager doesn’t want to employ a receptionist with an accent.

Are there any exceptions?

TheEqual Opportunity Act 2010 includes some general exceptions . This means that discrimination may not be against the law in particular circumstances.

Discrimination in favour of a particular racial group may be permitted as a special measure that is a positive step to combat disadvantage or to meet the group’s specific needs, such as providing welfare services targeted at a particular racial group. For example, a hostel for Vietnamese refugees may be allowed to restrict employment to only Vietnamese people.

It is also lawful to offer employment to a person of a particular race if it is necessary to maintain authenticity or credibility in dramatic, artistic, entertainment, photographic or modelling performance or similar work.

Racial and religious vilification

Racial vilification is different from race discrimination and is covered under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 which makes it against the law to vilify a person or group of people on the grounds of their actual or assumed race or religion.

Vilification is behaviour that incites or encourages hatred of, serious contempt for, revulsion or severe ridicule of another person or group of people on the grounds of their race or religion.

Find out more about racial and religious vilification.


Employers may be vicariously liable for their employees’ acts of discrimination or sexual harassment. Employers can also be directly liable. Find out more about who is liable for discrimination and harassment.

Employers also have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

Complaints of discrimination made to the Commission are resolved through a process called conciliation. Find out more about our process for resolving complaints.