Complaints to the human rights commissions

Complaints to the human rights commissions

The Australian Human Rights Commission and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission can investigate and help resolve complaints of discrimination, sexual harassment and racial vilification.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission can also help people resolve complaints about religious vilification.

It does not cost anything to make a complaint with either commission.

If you were discriminated against at work, you may also be able to make a general protections application to the Fair Work Commission.

It is important to carefully consider your legal options before lodging your complaint. You should therefore get legal advice before you make an application.

Making a complaint

The Australian Human Rights Commission and Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission both have forms you can fill in to make sure you include all the necessary details for the complaint to be investigated.

The complaint should identify:

  • who is making the complaint
  • who the complaint is about (the respondent)
  • the grounds of discrimination (for example, your race, disability, or age)
  • information about the act of discrimination.

For more information about how to lodge a complaint see:

Once your complaint is received, the commission will check to make sure it has the power to help resolve (or ‘conciliate’) your complaint. They may ask you to provide further information about your complaint.

Who can make a complaint

If you have experienced discrimination, you can make a complaint directly to the commission. It’s best to get legal advice first.

It is also possible for a complaint to be made on your behalf in some circumstances, including by:

  • a person who has experienced the same treatment that your complaint is about.
  • parents of a child where the child has experienced discrimination.
  • if you have a disability that makes it difficult for you to lodge a complaint, a person you authorise to make a complaint for you.
  • an organisation that has ‘sufficient interest’ in a complaint. This means that the alleged discrimination affects the interests of the organisation or the interests and welfare of the people represented by the organisation. For example, a disability support group may lodge a complaint on behalf of several of its members about a lack of accessible toilets at a public venue.

Contact the commission you are lodging the complaint with to discuss whether this is suitable for your situation.

Time limits on making a complaint

Generally, complaints about discrimination must be made within 12 months of the discrimination happening. Extensions of time are sometimes possible – discuss your situation with the commission you are lodging your complaint with.

Note that there are strict time frames for making a general protections application to the Fair Work Commission. You have 21 days to lodge an application after the event has occurred if it involves ending your employment.

Investigation of anti-discrimination complaints

The Australian Human Rights Commission or Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission may investigate your complaint and speak with the people that you have complained about. A conciliator may call you to ask for extra information.

If the conciliator declines your complaint after looking into the situation you will receive a letter explaining why. Reasons why a complaint might be declined include:

  • a lack of evidence to support the complaint
  • it would be better dealt with by a tribunal or court
  • one of the parties to the complaint has initiated proceedings with another commission or tribunal
  • it is 'frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance'
  • it is about something that happened more than 12 months ago and it would be unfair to the respondent to accept the complaint.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will only investigate complaints in exceptional cases.

Conciliation

If the commission accepts your complaint, the conciliator will arrange for the people that you have complained about to talk through the issues and come to an agreement about resolving the complaint. This process is called ‘conciliation’.

Outcomes of conciliation might include:

  • an apology
  • financial compensation
  • a job reference or reinstatement
  • access to a previously denied job opportunity or service
  • an agreement to change or stop the behaviour.

Conciliation is meant to be flexible and informal. If you have a conciliation conference, this conference is not a public hearing in a court of law or a tribunal. Parties do not have to prove or disprove a complaint.

The commission’s role in conciliation is to help the parties involved to reach an agreement.

The conciliation process is confidential. Anything said or done in the course of conciliation cannot be used later in a tribunal or a court case.

Neither commission has the power to make orders or award compensation.

If your complaint does not resolve at conciliation, you may pursue it at a court or tribunal. Find out more about what to do if conciliation does not work.

How long will it take?

If you lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission, it can take a few weeks to allocate a complaint to the officer who will be handling it. The average time it takes to finalise a complaint is eight months, although they may be finalised much sooner. More complex complaints often take longer to finalise.

If you lodge a complaint with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the time it takes to finalise a complaint varies, depending on the individual circumstances of the complaint. However, if a complaint raises urgent issues, it can be prioritised. The majority of complaints handled by the commission are finalised within six months.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with discrimination, harassment and bullying.