Sex discrimination - Workplace

It is against the law to discriminate against anyone in the workplace because of their sex.

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

Sex discrimination may be direct or indirect. Direct sex discrimination is when an employee is treating unfavourably because of their sex. Indirect sex discrimination can occur if employers or managers hold assumptions about what sort of work women and men are capable, or not capable, of doing.

Sex discrimination could include:

  • not hiring a woman because the boss thinks she won't fit into a traditionally male workplace 
  • offering women and men different rates of pay or benefits for the same job 
  • not promoting a woman to a more senior position because it's assumed the other staff won't respect her authority 
  • dividing up work tasks based on whether staff are male or female 
  • insisting women wear different clothing at work to men, for example, short skirts 
  • not considering women for a particular role. 

Example of sex discrimination

Barbara applies for a job as a bus driver. She had been a transport driver in the RAAF and has plenty of experience. When the employer gives her the job he tells her that he doubts she will be able to ‘hack the pace’ and that she will be paid less than her male colleagues until she ‘proves herself’.

Rico sees an advertisement for a job as a sales representative for a cosmetics company. When he telephones to express his interest, the personnel manager says, ‘Sorry, we don’t have any male reps and we like to keep it that way.’

Martha, a dispatch supervisor, discovers that male dispatch supervisors are on a higher wage and receive greater benefits than she does. She is told that she is paid less because drivers find it difficult to listen to females.

Are there any exceptions?

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

There are also specific exceptions in regard to sex discrimination. For example, an employer may limit the offering of employment to people of one sex if it is a genuine occupational requirement for this to happen. Some examples of this could include:

  • maintaining decency and privacy (for example, in a fitting room or toilets)
  • performing searches of people or their clothing.
  • maintaining authenticity and credibility in regard to an artistic, photographic or dramatic performance, modelling work or similar activity.

Complaints

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.

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