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In New Zealand, employment discrimination is where an employer treats an employee unfavourably in some way due to a discriminatory ground, which includes:

  • ethnicity;
  • age;
  • gender; and
  • other protected grounds.

As an employer, it is important to understand your obligations and the law around discrimination. This way, you can ensure that your business does not unconsciously or indirectly discriminate against employees. This article will set out:

  • what the different types of discrimination in the workplace are;
  • the situations that can lead to illegal discrimination under the law; and
  • how to resolve these issues if they occur.

What Are The Different Types Of Discrimination?

Generally speaking, an employer has discriminated against an employee when they do something that has a negative effect on the employee’s job.

For example, avoiding giving them the same training opportunities or treating them differently to other employees performing the same job when the reason for doing so relates directly or indirectly to a prohibited ground for discrimination.

These different grounds include:

  • 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 domestic violence; or
  • 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.

In your business, the best practice is to ensure that you are treating different employees the same way, no matter who they are or what their background is. The easiest way to avoid a discrimination grievance is to ensure that all employees are being treated well, and equally. 

What Are The Situations That Can Lead To Illegal Discrimination?

There are a range of different situations that amount to discrimination. The common feature is when an employee has mistreated or unequally treated one employee on the basis of one of their characteristics listed in the above section. There are different examples of this kind of mistreatment, including:



Employment Conditions

When an employer will not or does not give the employee the same: 

  • terms of employment;
  • work conditions;
  • fringe benefits;
  • opportunities for training;
  • promotion; and
  • transfer as other employees with the same experience or skills.

Negative Treatment

When an employer dismisses an employee or does something that has a negative effect on their job performance or job satisfaction when they are not treating other employees doing the same type of work in the same way.

Retirement or Resignation

When an employer retires an employee or makes the employee retire or resign. For instance, by creating unfavourable working conditions to make the person resign. This is often an issue for older employees who can face discrimination on the basis of their age.

How Should Discrimination Issues Be Resolved?

Discrimination issues are serious. Therefore, you should ensure your business has processes for quickly addressing and resolving any allegations of discrimination. Employment discrimination can constitute a personal grievance by an employee. This is particularly when their employer was aware of discrimination issues and did little to resolve them.

As a first step, if discrimination is brought to your or your business’ attention, try to discuss the issue with the employee to: 

  • understand their perspective;
  • find out about the possible discrimination; and
  • hopefully resolve the problem at this early stage.

Let the employee know they can use a support person to help them, such as a union representative or lawyer.

If the problem cannot be resolved by talking to the employee, there may be a need for mediation. Mediation can be a good medium for openly airing issues and demonstrating to the employee that you are taking their concern seriously. If the issue is still not resolved at that stage, an employee can:

  • take their personal grievance to the Employment Relations Authority; or
  • make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

Key Takeaways

Employment discrimination is a serious problem in New Zealand and there are several laws protecting employees from being treated differently, or worse, because of certain characteristics or backgrounds. These grounds include ethnicity, gender, age and disability as well as views such as political or religious beliefs. These laws also protect union representatives from being discriminated against. Whenever there is an allegation of discrimination in your business, you should work to try and understand and resolve the issue as soon as possible. If you want to know more about employment discrimination in New Zealand, contact LegalVision’s New Zealand employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is employment discrimination?

When an employee is treated differently or worse in some way because of a certain characteristic, whether that is their ethnicity, gender, age or some other discriminatory ground.

What are the possible grounds for discrimination?

The grounds include 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 domestic violence, or involvement in union activities.

Can employment discrimination result in a personal grievance against an employer?

Yes, employment discrimination can amount to a personal grievance.

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