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Profession, trade or occupation

We should treat all Victorian workers the same, regardless of their industry. This attribute protects sex workers from discrimination. It is against the law to treat someone unfairly because of their profession, trade, or occupation.

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Decriminalising sex work

The first stage of sex work decriminalisation began on 10 May 2022. This means that consensual sex work is legal in most locations across Victoria. Criminal offences no longer apply to street-based sex work in most places.

A new attribute was also added to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. The ‘profession, trade or occupation’ attribute ensures sex workers cannot be discriminated against because of their work.

This will also protect others who face discrimination and stigma because of their job.

The Equal Opportunity Act was also amended to ensure sex workers can’t be refused accommodation.

Decriminalising sex work recognises that consensual sex work is legitimate work and regulated like all other industries in the state.

What is profession, trade or occupation discrimination?

This discrimination occurs when someone treats you unfairly because of your profession, trade, or occupation. This includes sex work.

The Equal Opportunity Act now protects sex workers from discrimination in certain areas of public life, including, work, education, goods and services, sporting clubs, and accommodation services.

Examples of profession, trade or occupation discrimination

  • Refusing to provide a bank loan to someone because they are a sex worker.
  • Refusing to provide an employment opportunity to someone because they previously worked as a sex worker.
  • Not allowing a long-term staff member, who is a cleaner, to apply for an internal position within a non-cleaning company business, even though the person has the relevant experience and qualifications for the role.

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.

Profession, trade or occupation discrimination at work

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

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, duty holders (including employers) have a positive duty to eliminate discriminationsexual 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:

An example of profession, trade or occupation discrimination at work

Ming works as a dental nurse, but previously worked as a sex worker throughout university. Although Ming is an enthusiastic and diligent dental nurse and has worked at her clinic for five years, her employer denies her promotional opportunities.

Meanwhile, two of her peers who have comparable skills and experience become senior dental nurses. Ming suspects the reason she has not been promoted is due to her history as a sex worker. If this is the reason, she has experienced unlawful discrimination.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that mean it is not against the law to discriminate in particular circumstances.

The Equal Opportunity Act has introduced a new, specific exception that applies to this attribute, where discrimination because of a person’s profession, trade or occupation may be permitted for genuine occupational requirements.

For example:

It may be a genuine occupational requirement for a teaching position that the candidate have experience or relevant qualifications as a teacher. Therefore, overlooking a candidate who doesn’t have experience or relevant qualifications as a teacher will not be discrimination.

Find out more about exceptions.

My 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.

More information

Sexual harassment support and response tool

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Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries

1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

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0447 526 642

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.