COVID-19 and discrimination at work

COVID-19 and discrimination at work

If you experience discrimination at work because of COVID-19 coronavirus:

  • it might or might not be against the law, depending on your situation
  • you should get legal advice quickly, as you may have to do something within 21 days
  • you can get advice from Victoria Legal Aid. See ‘Get help’.

If you have been treated badly at work or lost your job for a different reason, get legal advice. Victoria Legal Aid cannot give you advice about unfair dismissal or unpaid entitlements, but other organisations can help. See ‘Get help’.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination means that you are treated badly because of something about yourself that is protected by the law, like having a disability.

Discrimination includes being treated unfairly because:

  • you have a temporary disease or illness, like coronavirus
  • you are caring for someone with coronavirus
  • you previously had coronavirus
  • your employer thinks you had coronavirus, have it now or will have it in the future
  • you have a disability that makes coronavirus a bigger risk for you
  • you are from a particular race or cultural background.

There are laws to protect people from discrimination because of a disability, because they have parental or carer responsibilities, or because of their race.

What does my employer have to do?

Your employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ (changes) to accommodate your disability or your responsibilities as a parent or a carer. This might include letting you work from home if you have to self-isolate or care for someone.

What is ‘reasonable’ depends on how much inconvenience or hardship the changes will cause your employer. This could include the cost of making the changes, how it would affect the business and what impact it has on other workers. Your employer must make sure the workplace is safe for all workers and follow government advice.

If you cannot do your job because of coronavirus, it might be legal for your employer to:

  • ask you to work from home
  • make you redundant
  • ask you to take paid or unpaid leave
  • dismiss you.

Whether it is legal or not will depend on the circumstances. It is important that you get advice about your options. See ‘Get help’.

What can I do?

If you experience discrimination at work, you may be able to make a discrimination complaint. You can ask for your job back in some circumstances or ask for money as compensation. You can get legal advice about discrimination from Victoria Legal Aid.

If you have lost your job but you do not think it is discrimination, you may be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal. If you have not been paid your entitlements, you may be able to make a claim for underpayment. Victoria Legal Aid cannot assist with these issues, but other organisations can.

Get legal advice quickly. You may have to do something within 21 days.

See ‘Get help’.

What if I am treated badly because of my race?

The law says you must not be treated unfairly at work because of your:

  • race
  • colour
  • descent
  • national or ethnic origin
  • immigration status.

If you are hurt, threatened or feel unsafe, call the police. In an emergency, call 000 and ask for the police. If it is not an emergency, call 13 14 44 or report it to the police online

If you are treated badly at work because of your race, you can call us for advice. See ‘Get help’.

Does it matter if I don’t work full-time?

Not for a discrimination claim. Discrimination laws protect all workers, including people who work:

  • full-time
  • part time
  • casual
  • on probation
  • as apprentices and trainees
  • for fixed periods of time or tasks.

More information

Learn where to get help with the COVID-19 coronavirus

Read about Discrimination, harassment and bullying

Read about Employment and your rights

Read about how to make a complaint about discrimination

Visit the JobWatch COVID-19 employment rights Q&A

Where to get help

See ‘Get help’.

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