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The law is very clear on racial discrimination and racial hatred in Australia. It says that it is against the law to treat someone unfairly because of their race, skin colour, descent, national origin, ethnic origin or immigrant status. It is also illegal to do something publicly, to a person or a group of people, which is likely to be offensive, insulting, humiliating or intimidating based on these same attributes. Although racial discrimination can happen anywhere, we focus below on what you should do as an employee or employer if it occurs in the workplace.

What Should I Do as an Employer?

If you are an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees to ensure their health and safety while they are at work. This duty extends to both physical and psychological health. Consequently, you should make it clear at the outset that you will not tolerate racist behaviour in your workplace, and try to encourage a culture amongst your employees that promotes inclusion.

There are several policies that your business can implement setting out what you expect regarding employee behaviour. These documents should also describe what action you can take against employees that engage in this behaviour such as warnings or even dismissal. Employers commonly communicate these policies through an Employee Handbook.

You can also set our your expectations of your employees’ behaviour in separate policies which cover:

What Should I Do as an Employee?

Employees should always work towards fostering an inclusive culture in your workplace so that racially motivated incidents are less likely to occur. For example, you should make sure not to make racist jokes or comments that are likely to offend people. If someone tries to engage you in a conversation that is racist in nature, tell them you are not interested.

Key Takeaways

If you do witness racist behaviour happening towards a colleague, then how you respond depends on the situation. Where possible, you should say or do something to support your colleague so they know they are not alone, but avoid taking matters into your own hands if you think it will worsen the situation.

For example, you could:

  • Ask if your workmate is okay;
  • Ask your workmate to come with you to remove them from the situation;
  • Say something to the person who is making racially discriminatory comments to make them think about what they are saying, as well as to those who are listening to them;
  • Assist your colleague with writing down what happened;
  • Refer to your Employee Handbook or policies and procedures about what to do next;
  • Tell your workmate what they could do about the incident; or
  • Report the incident to your employer, the workplace health and safety representative, your HR department or a Union.

Importantly, if you have any questions on how to best approach Workplace Discrimination issues, ask. You can get in touch with our Employment Lawyers on 1300 544 755.


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