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.
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 refused a job, dismissed, denied training opportunities or a promotion, or is harassed while at work, because of their religious belief or activity, or lack of religious belief.
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.
- 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”.
Currently, there are no federal laws that protect against discrimination on the basis of religion.
However, many states and territories do have legislation prohibiting discrimination related to religion, religious conviction, religious belief or religious activity.
They include 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 to find out if you are protected by legislation.
Proposed Religious Discrimination Act
Early in 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s LNP government announced its intention to introduce a new federal Religious Discrimination Act, which would make ‘religious beliefs’ a protected attribute.
Despite drafting three different versions of Bill, the Morrison government failed to pass the legislation during the three years they were in office.
Community groups and members of Morrison’s own government were not happy with aspects of the proposed law, which would have allowed people of faith to lawfully discriminate against LGBTIQ people, single mothers and disabled people.
Any further attempt at a federal Religious Discrimination Bill will not happen until after the federal election in May 2022.
How we can help
If you have experienced discrimination on the basis of your religious belief or activity, or lack of religious belief, our team of Australian workplace lawyers and industrial advocates can help.
We have a proven track record of negotiating substantial compensation pay outs for our clients who have experienced discrimination.
We can represent you in the Human Rights Commission or any other relevant commission, court or tribunal.
We will not give up until we have achieved the justice you are seeking.
If you are dismissed from employment because of your religious belief or activity, or lack of religious belief, you only have 21-days from the date of dismissal to file a claim, so don’t delay!
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LAST UPDATED: March 2022