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Discrimination at work

It’s against the law to be treated unfairly in the workplace or when you apply for a job.

Types of discrimination

It’s unlawful if an employer treats you unfairly at work in a way that unreasonably disadvantages you because of who you are and what you believe in.

Employers and workplaces may not discriminate against you because of:

  • age
  • race or colour
  • ethnicity or national origins
  • sex (including pregnancy or childbirth)
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • religious or ethical belief
  • marital or family status
  • employment status
  • political opinion
  • being affected by family violence
  • involvement in union activities, including claiming or helping others to claim a benefit under an employment agreement, or taking or intending to take employment relations education leave.

Discrimination — Employment New Zealand

Legal protection at work

Protection from discrimination applies to all aspects of employment, including:

  • recruitment and selection
  • your pay and conditions
  • training and promotion
  • ending your employment.

The law applies to both full-time and part-time work, even if you’re:

  • working on contract
  • a volunteer worker
  • looking for work through a recruitment agency.

As well as employers, the law also applies to how you’re treated by professional or trade associations, qualifying bodies and vocational training bodies.


There are some exceptions. An employer can treat people differently in some situations.

Exceptions to unlawful discrimination — Employment New Zealand

If you’ve been discriminated against

Discrimination can sometimes be hard to prove. The first thing to do is to discuss your problem with:

  • the Human Rights Commission, or
  • Employment New Zealand.

They’ll talk the problem through with you and help you decide what to do next.

Contact the Human Rights Commission

Contact Employment New Zealand

Resolving the problem

There are several ways the Human Rights Commission and Employment New Zealand can help you to resolve your problem. They’ll work with you to decide what to do. This could be:

  • making a phone call to the employer for you
  • arranging mediation so everyone involved can talk the problem through
  • taking the grievance to the Human Rights Review Tribunal or the Employment Relations Authority.

If it’s a human rights matter

The Human Rights Commission offers a free and confidential mediation service. When you contact them, you’ll need to tell them what happened and why you think you’ve been discriminated against. They’ll use this information to work out if your problem is one that they can help with.

Information and support if you have faced discrimination — Human Rights Commission

Taking further action

If your complaint is not resolved through the Human Rights Commission’s processes, you have the right to go to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. You can do this directly or by asking for representation from the Office of Human Rights Proceedings. If they think you have a genuine case, they pay for your legal representation.

How to apply for representation — Human Rights Commission

If the Office of Human Rights Proceedings decides not to represent you, you can still take your case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, but you have to pay your own legal costs.

Human Rights Review Tribunal — Ministry of Justice

Health and disability, or employment issues

If the Human Rights Commission think your problem is related to a health and disability or employment issue, they’ll refer you to the Health and Disability Commissioner or Employment New Zealand.

If it’s an employment matter

Employment New Zealand provides a free mediation service for employees and employers.

Mediation — Employment New Zealand

Taking further action

If you cannot resolve your problem through mediation, other steps include taking a personal grievance against your employer, bringing your employment problem to the Employment Relations Authority, or applying to the Employment Court.

Your options when you have a problem at work

Health and disability, or human rights issues

If Employment New Zealand thinks your problem is a health and disability or a human rights issue, they’ll refer you to the Health and Disability Commissioner or the Human Rights Commission.

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