If you think that someone at work is treating you badly for a reason that is against the law (such as your race, religion, sex, disability, age or pregnancy), or if you are being sexually harassed, then you should think about speaking to your employer or manager.
Before you speak to your employer
- Think about talking directly with the person involved if it is safe and appropriate to do so.
- Find out if your employer has a formal complaint or dispute policy and read the first steps in that policy.
- If you’re a member of a union, consider speaking to them.
What to expect from your employer
Your employer should provide you with a workplace which is safe and does not put your health at risk in any way. This means that your employer must respond meaningfully to complaints about bullying, harassment or other risks to health and safety in the workplace.
Your employer must comply with anti-discrimination laws. Your employer can be held responsible if any people you work with treat you unfairly. This means that your employer should take discrimination complaints seriously and take action to stop the behaviour.
You may not have control over what your employer does to resolve the problem once you have raised it. Because your employer has to provide a safe work environment, they may decide to investigate the complaint even if you don’t want them to.
Speaking to your employer
Tell your employer what happened, how it has made you feel, and what you would like your employer to do to fix it.
Ask your employer if you can have a support person to be at any meetings. Ideally this person will not be someone who also works with you.
If you need changes to be made to your workspace because of a disability, or changes to your work hours because of parental/carer duties, tell your employer what you need and why. Explain how it is possible to keep doing your job with these changes. Find out if there are any policies of your employer or industry that may support your need to make the changes and mention these.
If you need changes because of a disability, it is best to speak with your doctor about what changes you need and how long they will be needed. You could ask your doctor to write a letter to your employer about the changes you need. Your employer may also ask that you be seen by an independent doctor of their choice.
Consider writing a letter or email to your employer setting out all these details so that you have a record of what you have told your employer.
If you have been injured or you are unwell
If you need some time off work because of the discrimination, tell your employer as soon as possible. If you’re unwell you should get aa medical certificate if your work rules say this is necessary. It is best to give your employer your certificate within 24 hours of taking leave.
If you’ve been injured because of discrimination, including a psychological injury (for example depression or anxiety), you should get advice about making a workers compensation claim. You should do this within 30 days of the work-related injury or illness occurring.
Keep copies of all medical records and reports about any injuries, as well as the receipts for medical costs.
What if I’m treated badly for speaking up?
It is against the law for your employer or anyone else to treat you badly or unfairly because you have made a complaint about discrimination, or they think that you may make a complaint. If this happens, you may also be able to claim:
Keep notes of what happens
Keep notes of all incidents and conversations, including who said what and who was present at the time. This could be in a diary. It is best if these notes are made as close to the event as possible, and signed and dated.
If you have received emails, text messages or social media posts with discriminatory material, keep copies as evidence for your complaint. You may wish to screenshot any relevant texts or posts. Make sure that you tell your employer if you receive messages that may breach workplace policies (for example offensive material of a sexual nature).
It is not against the law to secretly record a conversation when you are part of the conversation. However, if your employer finds out that you are secretly recording conversations it may still be grounds for dismissal or disciplinary action. You should not tell anyone about any secret recordings without getting legal advice first.
Keep a record of the names and contact details of any witnesses.
Keep a record of any letters, emails, text messages or other communications between you and your employer or others about the discrimination.
What if my complaint is not resolved?
You should seek legal advice immediately if:
- your employer isn’t properly investigating your complaint or isn’t taking steps to fix it
- the discrimination or sexual harassment hasn’t stopped or you are being treated unfairly since reporting it
- you’re considering resigning (quitting your job) because of the discrimination or sexual harassment. You can take sick leave if you are too unwell or too stressed to keep going to work while you get advice and consider your options.
Make a complaint
Keep in mind that some complaints must be made within 21 days, so it is important to get legal advice as soon as possible after the discrimination occurs.
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au
Reviewed 12 April 2022