Harassment and Discrimination

No one deserves to be harassed or discriminated against at work. You have a right to work free of bullying or any kind of harassment or discrimination.

Find out here

  • What is harassment?
  • What is discrimination?
  • What to do if you feel discriminated against or harassed at work.

What is harassment and when is it illegal?

According to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) unlawful harassment occurs

when someone is made to feel intimidated, insulted or humiliated because of their

  • race
  • colour
  • national or ethnic origin
  • sex, pregnancy or marital status
  • age
  • disability
  • religion
  • sexual preference
  • trade union activity
  • or some other characteristic specified under anti-discrimination or human rights legislation.

It can also happen if someone is working in “a ‘hostile’ – or intimidating – environment.”

What forms can harassment take?

Some examples of harassment include

  • Telling insulting jokes about particular racial groups, or a particular sex or religion
  • Sending explicit or sexually suggestive emails
  • Putting up offensive or pornographic posters, or having pornographic screen savers
  • Taunting or criticising someone about their race or religion
  • Insults or taunts based on your sex
  • Leering or staring in a sexually suggestive way
  • Asking intrusive questions about a person’s private life or sexuality
  • Offensive messages by email or telephone.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination in employment means being treated less fairly (usually by your employer, supervisor or manager) than someone else for reasons that are unrelated to your ability to do a job.

Unlawful discrimination occurs when someone, or a group of people, is treated less favourably than another person or group because of their

  • race
  • colour
  • national or ethnic origin
  • sex, pregnancy or marital status
  • age
  • disability
  • religion
  • sexual preference
  • trade union activity
  • or some other characteristic specified under anti-discrimination or human rights legislation.

Workplace discrimination can take many forms, but can particularly occur:

  • when recruiting and selecting staff eg not being selected for a job by a new employer or not being promoted by your existing employer
  • when being required to follow a work rule or policy that disadvantages certain groups.
  • in the terms, conditions and benefits offered as part of employment/li>
  • in deciding who does and doesn’t receive training and what sort of training is offered
  • in who is considered and selected for transfer, promotion, retrenchment or dismissal.

What is ‘a hostile working environment’?

Employers have a responsibility to make sure that your working environment is not sexually or racially ‘hostile’.

For example, a workplace where crude language and sexually offensive jokes are part of the culture or pornographic materials are displayed may be found to be a hostile working environment.

A workplace where racist or homophobic jokes or comments are frequent and not disciplined may also be a hostile working environment.

The conduct does not have to specifically targeted at an individual for the person to have the right to complain about it.

What’s not discrimination or harassment?

Receiving legitimate comment and advice (including negative comment or feedback) from your manager or supervisor on the performance or behaviour of an individual or group should not be confused with discrimination or behaviour.

The fact that it is not positive does not mean it is harassing or discriminatory.

What to do if you think you are being harassed or discriminated against

There are two ways of going about dealing with harassment (or discrimination).

One is informal – which may be all that’s needed. If not, or you don’t feel able to do this, use the more formal procedure.

If you are a member of the union, contact us at an early stage to get our support and guidance.

Informal procedure for dealing with the harasser

  • If possible, and you feel able to do it, resolve the problem informally by speaking to the harasser.
  • If you don’t wish to, or don’t feel able to speak to the alleged harasser, put your concerns in writing.
  • Consider asking a colleague or friend to speak or write to the alleged harasser.
  • If the conduct continues, ask your manager to speak to the harasser and ask him or her to stop.
  • Keep a written record of all incidents. This will be important if the situation is not resolved quickly.

Formal procedure for dealing with harassment

Use the formal procedure if the informal procedure has failed, or if things have already reached a stage that make the informal procedure inappropriate.

  • Raise the matter formally with your supervisor (or someone else in authority if your supervisor is the alleged harasser) who will report it to the appropriate person. (You could report it to your Human Resources Department if you have one.)
  • Put your complaint in writing.
  • A decision will be taken as to whether further action is necessary.
  • There may be a disciplinary hearing.

The matter should be investigated and witnesses interviewed. If this doesn’t happen, contact the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, http://www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au. Their confidential contact enquiry line is 1300 292 153.

CWU members are encouraged to contact the union to get advice and help with what to do in cases of workplace discrimination or harassment.

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