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What is religious belief or activity discrimination?

Religious belief or activity discrimination happens when someone, or a group of people, is treated less favourably because of their beliefs, or how they choose to observe those beliefs.

So that can include how they worship, their appearance, and if they wear certain jewellery or clothing for religious reasons.

Discrimination can also happen against a person, or group of people, who don’t hold any religious beliefs.

When it comes to employment, discrimination on the basis of religion happens when a person is treated unfairly because of their religious belief or activity.

This may include being refused a job, being dismissed from employment, being denied training opportunities or a promotion, or being harassed at work.

The law

Currently, there are no federal laws that protect against discrimination on the basis of religion alone.

However, discrimination related to religion, religious conviction, religious belief or religious activity can be unlawful under the laws of the ACT, Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

In South Australia, discrimination on the basis of religious dress or appearance in work or study can be unlawful.

In Queensland, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their religious belief or religious activity.

If you have experienced religious discrimination, it is important to seek expert legal advice so you know which legislation applies to your particular situation.

Definition of religious belief and religious activity

Religious belief means holding or not holding a religious belief.

Religious activity means engaging in, not engaging in or refusing to engage in lawful religious activity.

Examples of religious belief and activity discrimination

  • A store manager refuses to offer a role serving customers to a female employee because she wears a hijab.
  • A private school refuses to enrol a Sikh student because its uniform policy states that hair has to be cut short, and the school hat has to be worn.  The school will not allow the student to wear a turban and leave his hair uncut, which are requirements of his religion.
  • A Muslim accounts manager received a group email at work which was offensive and derogatory to the Islamic faith.  During a lunch break, a co-worker also made offensive comments about Muslims.  When the man objected, the perpetrator said, “Can’t you take a joke?”
  • The owner of a house which was for rent refused to rent it to a Sikh family saying it was “too good for towel heads like them”.

Proposed Religious Discrimination Act

Early in 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s LNP government announced that it planned to introduce a new federal Religious Discrimination Act, which would make ‘religious beliefs’ a protected attribute.

The legislation would make it unlawful to discriminate against a person, or group of people, based on their religious beliefs – adding to the list of already protected attributes, like a person’s race, gender, sexuality or disability.

But unlike the controversial Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, it will not be unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” someone based on their religious beliefs.

To date, the legislation has not been passed.

How we can help

If you have experienced discrimination on the basis of your religious belief or activity, our team of Australian workplace lawyers and industrial advocates at Discrimination Claims can help.

We can take action on your behalf and represent you in the Human Rights Commission or any other relevant court or tribunal.

We are specialists at negotiating large compensation payments for those who have been subjected to unlawful discrimination, including religious discrimination.

IMPORTANT:  If you have been dismissed from employment because of your religious belief or activity, you only have 21 days from the date of your dismissal to lodge a claim, so don’t delay!

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LAST UPDATED: January 2023

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