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Lawful sexual activity

Your sexual activity – as long as it’s lawful – should have no bearing on whether you get a job, a loan, an apartment or a place on a sports team. It is against the law to discriminate against someone because of their lawful sexual activity.

A man and woman walk their dog with their arms wrapped around each other.

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

What is lawful sexual activity discrimination?

Lawful sexual activity discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly because of your lawful sexual activity.

Lawful sexual activity refers to choosing or not choosing to take part in any form of sexual activity that is legal in Victoria, including sex work. Sex workers, and other professions, are now also protected by the ‘Profession, trade or occupation’ attribute‘.

This does not include sexual activities that are against the law.

Examples of lawful sexual activity discrimination

  • Refusing to provide a service or rental accommodation to someone because they are a sex worker.
  • Deciding not to promote someone because they are in a polyamorous relationship.

How does the law protect me?

Discrimination is against the law if it happens in an area of public life such as:

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, duty holders (such as employers, schools, and goods and service providers) have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in these areas, as far as possible.

It is also against the law to victimise a person, which means treat them badly, because they have made complaint about discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint.

You can make a complaint

Get help from us.

You can make a complaint to us if you think you have experienced:

If you wish, someone else can make a complaint for you. Find out how we help people resolve complaints.

We can also give you information about your rights.

Lawful sexual activity discrimination at work

While a person is responsible for their own unlawful behaviour, employers can also be held responsible.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, employers have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

Victoria is unique in having a positive duty, which creates an opportunity to prevent unlawful behaviour. It helps organisations put a healthy workplace culture in place, just as occupational health and safety laws require employers to take appropriate steps to ensure injuries don’t occur.

To ensure they are complying with the positive duty, organisations should also put measures in place to ensure that complaints are responded to swiftly and appropriately when they do arise.

The positive duty applies to employers of all sizes, regardless of whether they are a major company or a small cafe, and covers all types of workers:

  • full-time, part-time and casual employees
  • agents and contract workers
  • trainees and apprentices.

It applies to all stages of employment, including:

Examples of lawful sexual activity discrimination in the workplace

  • Firing a staff member because they’re in an intimate relationship with someone who works for a competitor.
  • Refusing to provide an employment opportunity to someone because they previously worked as a sex worker.
    Sex workers, and other professions, are now also protected by the ‘Profession, trade or occupation’ attribute.
  • Asking a staff member intrusive and personal questions in front of colleagues about them having a personal relationship with another work colleague.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that mean it’s not against the law to discriminate in particular circumstances. For example, discrimination is not against the law if there is a real risk to someone’s health, safety or property.

Find out more about exceptions.

My human rights under the Charter

Every Victorian has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination, and to enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities contains 20 basic rights that promote and protect the values of freedom, respect, equality, and dignity.

The Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities must always consider Charter rights, including the right to equality, when they create laws, develop policies and deliver their services.

Find out more about your human rights under the Charter and what to do if you think they have been breached.

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The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges that we work on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We also work remotely and serve communities on the lands of other Traditional Custodians.

We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.