Making a complaint

Download the Making a complaint fact sheet (PDF File, 373.1 KB)

This section relates to complaints made to the Commission under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

Complaints under the Human Rights Act 2019 may not be lodged until after 1 January 2020. Complaints under the Human Rights Act will only be able to be made about alleged breaches which occur after 1 January 2020.

You have a 12 month time limit to lodge a complaint under the Anti-Discrimination Act.

What you say in the complaint is important. It determines whether the complaint will be accepted into the complaint process, and may affect your rights and the outcome of the complaint.

We recommend you seek legal advice before making a complaint. You can do this through Legal Aid Queensland or a Community Legal Centre, or find a private solicitor through the Queensland Law Society.

You can also contact our telephone information service for information about how to make a complaint.

Who can complain?

In most cases, a complaint may only be made by the person who was subjected to the discrimination, sexual harassment, victimisation, or other behaviour prohibited by the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

If the person is a child, a parent or guardian may make a compliant on behalf of the child.

If a person cannot or does not want to make the complaint themselves they, or the Commission, may be able appoint another person to make a complaint on their behalf.

Two or more people may make a complaint jointly.

A person who sees another person being treated unfairly cannot make a complaint. That person can provide a witness statement to the person subjected to the treatment, to help support them.

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Vilification complaints

Vilification on the basis of race, religion, sexuality or gender identity is grounds for a complaint under the Act. While most complaints under the Act can only be made by the person affected by the conduct in question, complaints about vilification can be made by what the Act terms a ‘relevant entity’. This is an entity whose primary purpose is to promote the interests or welfare of persons of a particular race, religion, sexuality or gender identity – for example, community groups or support organisations for people of different races or religions, or those supporting the LGBTIQ communities.

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Who can I complain about?

Under the Act, complaints can be made about a person, multiple people, and/or a business or organisation.

A person who has discriminated against, sexually harassed, asked unnecessary questions of, publicly vilified, or victimised another person.

People who engage in these behaviours, which are prohibited under the Act, are responsible for their own actions, and a complaint can be made against them.

A person who encourages or requests a person to discriminate

A complaint can also be made about a person who encourages or requests another person to contravene the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 , if their request or encouragement results in the person being discriminated against, sexually harassed, victimised, vilified or being asked for unnecessary information on which discrimination could be based.

A person who causes a reprisal because of a PID

A person, people or organisation who caused a detriment (reprisal) because a person made a Public Interest Disclosure is responsible for their own actions.

A complaint can be made about any or all of them.

Find out more about reprisal for Public Interest Disclosure

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Vicarious liability

If the person being complained about was doing their work at the time they engaged in the behaviour being complained about, their employer may also be responsible. The employer may also be responsible for anything done by their employee that was in any way connected with work.

If a person was acting as an agent on behalf of another person when they discriminated against, sexually harassed, asked unnecessary questions of, publicly vilified, or victimised another person, both will be responsible for the behaviour.

This is called vicarious liability.

An employer or principal may not be vicariously liable if they can prove that they took reasonable steps to prevent the unfair treatment happening.

Find out more about vicarious liability

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Options before making a complaint

Ignoring discrimination, sexual harassment, victimisation or vilification thinking it will go away usually does not work. Often it gets worse.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly, you can choose what action you feel most comfortable with. This will depend on you and your circumstances, and each situation is different. You might take more than one action at the same time.

Your options might include:

  1. Tell the person concerned that their behaviour is not acceptable and must stop.
  2. Get more information before deciding what to do:
    • Contact a manager, human resource manager or equity contact officer within the organisation; or
    • Contact a trade union for advice; or
    • Contact Legal Aid or a lawyer for legal advice; or
    • Call us at the Queensland Human Rights Commission on 1300 130 670 for information about rights and responsibilities.
  3. Make an internal complaint by:
    • Contacting the person in the organisation who deals with this kind of complaint; or
    • If it happened at work, complaining to a supervisor, manager or other senior person. Tell them what happened and ask them what they will do to resolve the complaint.
  4. Make an external complaint to:
    • The Queensland Human Rights Commission on 1300 130 670. We can explain the process to resolve a complaint through conciliation. The Commission complaint resolution service is free. Download a complaint form from this website (MS Word Document, 83.8 KB) or ask us to send one. A complaint must be made within 1 year unless there are good reasons for any delay; or
    • Australian Human Rights Commission in Sydney on 1300 369 711; or
    • Fair Work Commission on 1300 799 675 or
    • If you are complaining about something that happened at work in the public service or local government in Queensland, you can also call the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission on 1300 592 987.
  5. Get legal advice about making a complaint.

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Time limits

Each organisation has different time limits, so contact them urgently to ask if they can help to resolve a complaint, and find out how much time you have to make a complaint to them.

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Complain to the right agency

Making a complaint to the right agency is important. Once a complaint is made to an external organisation it may restrict the right to complain to another external organisation.

Contact our enquiry line to find out more about making a complaint

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How can I complain?

Under the terms in the Act, a complaint must be:

  • made in writing;
  • set out reasonably sufficient details to show that the person complained about may have breached the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 , or committed a reprisal under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010; and
  • lodged with or sent to the Commission.

A complaint should be made within one year of the first incident complained about.

The Commission can accept a complaint made more than one year from the alleged contravention or reprisal, if the person making the complaint shows good cause.

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What else?

Complaints must be made within one year unless there are good reasons for any delay.

There are no fees for our services.

If you need legal or other advice about your complaint, we can suggest where to go for help. We cannot give you advice or run your complaint for you.

We may investigate the complaint but we will not take sides.

We will try to help everyone reach an agreement but will not decide for you.

Keeping your complaint confidential may make it easier to resolve the complaint at conciliation. For that reason the Commission suggest that you keep your complaint confidential and only tell your legal advisers and those who are helping with your complaint.

You can withdraw your complaint at any time.

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