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Physical features

Imagine how boring the world would be if we all looked the same. Thankfully, humans come in many different shapes, sizes and appearances. And regardless of our height, hair colour, body shape or birthmarks, we all deserve to be treated fairly.

What is physical features discrimination?

Physical features discrimination is when someone discriminates against you, by treating you unfairly or bullying you, because of a physical feature that you have.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, physical features means:

  • height
  • weight
  • size
  • shape
  • facial features
  • hair
  • birthmarks.

Examples of discrimination because of physical features

  • A fast food company only hiring people with a certain ‘look’, that is, a specific height, weight and build.
  • A teacher making rude comments about a student’s birthmark.
  • A nightclub refusing entry to someone because of their weight.
  • A local basketball team only signing up people over 185cm tall.

How does the law protect me?

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

People who work in these areas have a positive duty to make sure you don’t face discrimination.

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 the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

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 the Commission helps people resolve complaints.

We can also give you information about your rights.

Physical features discrimination at work

Nearly half of the complaints about physical features discrimination that come to us are work related (43.6 per cent in 2018-19).

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.

Organisations must 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 workplace discrimination because of physical features

  • A company refusing to hire someone for a front-of-house role because they have a prominent birthmark on their face.
  • A staff member making inappropriate comments about the size of a colleague’s breasts (this could also be sexual harassment).
  • A manager telling his receptionist to dye her hair because she’s started going grey (this could also be age discrimination).

Can dress codes be discriminatory?

Schools and workplaces can set standards of dress and appearance but these should be reasonable.

Standards set by schools should reflect the views of the school community. Schools should make reasonable adjustments to uniform policies for people wearing religious dress, for example, allow students to wear hijab, yarmulkes or patkas in the same colour as the school uniform.

The dress codes of workplaces should also allow people to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their disability, pregnancy or religious belief.

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 these rights 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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Address
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries
enquiries@veohrc.vic.gov.au

Reception
1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

Interpreters
1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

Media enquiries
0447 526 642

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Australians and recognises their culture, history, diversity and deep connection to the land.

We acknowledge that the Commission is on the land of the Kulin Nation and pay our respects to Elders past and present.