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Local government

Local governments have a legal responsibility to make sure all staff and everyone who uses their services are treated fairly and with respect. They also have responsibilities under Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

A government employee rakes the leaves in the gutter. Another employee sits in a street sweeper.

How does the law protect me?

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, local governments have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

While a person who discriminates against or sexually harasses someone else is primarily responsible for their own behaviour, in some cases local governments can also be held responsible for the actions of their staff or agents.

Local governments have additional responsibilities under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and more information is available under the For public sector part of our website.

The law protects you from discrimination

It is against the law for a local government staff member or representative to treat you unfairly because of a personal characteristic that is protected by law such as your:

  • disability
  • race
  • religion
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

Discrimination in local government could include:

  • a councillor making rude comments about committee member’s sexual orientation during a committee meeting
  • council staff refusing to make accommodations for someone’s disability and associated behavioural issues so they can attend council meetings
  • staff at a council-run childcare centre make an offensive joke about a parent’s ethnic background.

Find out more about discrimination.

The law protects you from sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is also against the law, whether it is committed by:

  • managers, security staff or other staff
  • other clients or customers.

Find out more about sexual harassment.

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

What we can’t help with

The Commission can’t help you with general complaints about local government services. See our referral page for organisations that may be able to help.

Reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities

Local councils must make reasonable adjustments for employees (or people who have been offered employment) with a disability if they need adjustments in order to perform the job.

Local councils must also make reasonable adjustments if they are needed in order for a person with disability to participate in, or access, services provided by a council.

Whether the adjustments are deemed ‘reasonable’ depends on weighing up the need for change with the expense or effort involved in making the change. If the person with disability wouldn’t be able to use the service or perform the job even once the adjustments are made then they are not reasonable.

Positive duty

The Equal Opportunity Act introduced a positive duty requiring local councils to eliminate and prevent discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

For local councils, complying with the positive duty may include:

  • developing or reviewing policies aimed at preventing discrimination and harassment
  • having a good complaint handling or grievance procedure
  • conducting ongoing staff training and education to ensure that staff are aware of their obligations
  • reviewing services and external operations to prevent discrimination (for example, reviewing community engagement practices, assessing the accessibility of physical structures, and ensuring written products are available in alternate formats and languages)
  • having a process for reviewing and improving compliance.

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.

The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities – A guide for Victorian public sector workers – Jul 2019

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Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries

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Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

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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.