discrimination

Discrimination is when someone is treated differently from another person in the same or similar circumstances.

In some situations, being treated differently is allowed. It’s not easy to stop discrimination, especially in people’s ‘private’ lives. For example, if someone doesn’t want to be your friend because of the colour of your skin or won’t play with you because you’re a girl, there’s no law that can make them.

But the Human Rights Act 1993 makes it illegal to be discriminated against in ‘public’ life. Public life includes things like:

  • access to education;
  • access to goods and services;
  • access to public places, vehicles and facilities;
  • employment;
  • land, housing and accommodation;
  • government or public sector activities;
  • industrial and professional associations, qualifying bodies and vocational training bodies; and
  • partnerships.

If you’ve been discriminated against in one of these areas because of one of the reasons listed below, you may have sufficient grounds to make a complaint. Keep in mind that they only apply to public life, not private life.

Sex

‘Sex’ refers to gender, including being transgender. It also includes pregnancy and childbirth.

Generally it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your sex. But there are several exceptions. For example, an employer could choose a person based on their sex if they need someone of that sex because of privacy. They could also discriminate based on sex if the position involves highly personal issues like sexual matters. They might even be able to discriminate if the work premises aren’t equipped with separate facilities.

Businesses that provide goods and services are also allowed to charge reduced fees, charges or rates on the basis of sex. Insurance providers can have different terms or conditions for persons of different gender, as long as they have good reasons based on good data or medical opinion.

Marital Status

‘Marital status’ includes whether you’re single, married, in a civil union or de facto relationship, separated, divorced, or widowed.

Generally it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your marital status. But an employer might be able to refuse to employ you because you’re in a relationship with another employee and this could compromise your job or be bad for the employer.

Religious or ethical belief

‘Religious belief’ isn’t defined, but would cover any religion you might have. ‘Ethical belief’ means the lack of religious belief, whether in relation to one religion or all religions.

Generally it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your religious or ethical belief. But there are some situations where it’s OK. For example a religious institution like a Church is allowed to refuse to hire you because you don’t belong to their religion.

Colour, race or ethnic or national origins

‘Colour’ and ‘race’ aren’t defined, but ‘ethnic or national origins’ covers where you were born, your nationality and your citizenship.

Generally it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your colour, race or ethnic or national origins. There are exceptions for organizations or services set up for the benefit of a specific race, or in counselling for personal matters.

Disability

‘Disability’ includes a physical disability or impairment, physical illness, psychiatric illness, intellectual or psychological disability or impairment, the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing illness (such as HIV or AIDs), and needing a guide dog or wheel chair.

Generally it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your disability. Public bodies or those providing public services have to do what’s reasonable to accommodate your disability. But they won’t have to make changes to accommodate you that beyond what’s reasonable. This might be because they would have to do things that are really expensive, would take a long time or might cause undue hardship to them or someone else.

Age

‘Age’ is a little bit misleading, because it only applies to people aged at least 16. If you’re under 16, you won’t be able to claim protection from discrimination on the basis of your age.

Generally, once you’re over 16, it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your age. There are some exceptions to this. For example an employer is allowed to pay you less than older people, if you’re under 20. They can also refuse to hire you if it’s genuinely important for the particular job that you be a certain age.

Businesses that provide goods and services can also charge reduced fees, charges or rates on the basis of age – for example for senior citizen discounts. Insurance providers can have different terms or conditions for people of different ages, as long as they have good reasons based on good data or medical opinion.

Political opinion

‘Political opinion’ includes not having a political opinion.

Generally it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your political opinion. There are some exceptions, for example if you want to work for a particular political party.

Employment Status

‘Employment status’ includes being unemployed, on a Work and Income benefit, or receiving benefits under the ACC scheme.

Generally it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your employment status. There are exceptions for things like offering discounted rates on goods and services to those with a certain kind of employment status.

Family Status

‘Family status’ includes being in a relationship with or related to a particular person. It also includes whether or not you’re responsible for dependent children.

Generally it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your family status. But there are some exceptions – for example an employer might be able to refuse to employ you because you’re in a relationship with or related to another employee and this could compromise your job or be bad for the employer.

Sexual Orientation

‘Sexual orientation’ means whether you’re heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual.

Generally it’s illegal to discriminate against you because of your sexual orientation. There are some exceptions for things like counselling on personal matters. For example an employer might be able to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation when hiring a counsellor for a particular purpose related to sexuality.

Measures to Ensure Equality

There’s a general exception that “measures to ensure equality” are OK. Something that might usually be illegal discrimination might be OK if it’s there to help a certain group of people reach more equality. This means that ‘affirmative action’, which gives preference to certain people because of their race, gender or ethnicity, will be OK. This often happens in areas like education and employment.