Discrimination and harassment in the workplace

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 establishes a legal responsibility on employers to provide workplaces free from discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification.

Employers must not allow workers to be discriminated against, sexually harassed or subjected to vilification by other workers, clients or management. If they do they can be held legally liable. This means that the employer can ultimately be held responsible for the behaviour of their employees, and therefore need to be proactive in education staff about their responsibilities and standards of behaviour that are acceptable in the workplace.

Find out more about vicarious liability

Employers also have the right to take appropriate action against any employee who might be engaging in this type of conduct while at work. Such action might include formal staff counselling, disciplinary procedures and, in serious cases, dismissal.

All employers need to therefore take reasonable steps to prevent or minimise these behaviours in the workplace. Reasonable steps might include the implementation of appropriate policies and practices, training and education of staff and the establishment of grievance and complaint procedures. The law does not define ‘reasonable steps’ because what is reasonable in one workplace might not be reasonable in another.

Exemptions to the Anti-Discrimination Act

The Act lists some exemptions, or exceptions to the law, which outline some circumstances where the Act may not apply.

Find out more about exemptions to the Act

It is also to apply for an exemption to the Act through a tribunal ruling. For work-related matters, the tribunal is the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC), and for all other matters, the tribunal is the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).

Find out more about applying for a tribunal exemption