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Religious belief or activity

Victoria is a diverse and multicultural state, with many people practising a range of religions and holding a range of religious beliefs. The law protects your right to have a belief in a religion and practise your religion. It’s against the law to discriminate against you or vilify you because of your religious beliefs or activity. The law deals with public behaviour, not personal beliefs.

What is religious belief or activity discrimination?

In Victoria it is against the law to discriminate against you, by treating you unfairly or bullying you, because of your religious beliefs or activities, or what people think these might be.

Religious belief means holding, or not holding, a religious belief or view that is not against the law.

Religious activity means taking part, not taking part or refusing to take part, in a religious activity that is not against the law.

Examples of religious belief and activity discrimination

  • Not hiring a job candidate because they are Muslim and the employer worries they will leave their workstation multiple times a day for prayer.
  • A football club scheduling finals matches on a Saturday, which prevents clubs with Jewish members from participating.
  • A hotel not allowing a Muslim man to book a room because the owner thinks he might be a terrorist.

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.

Religious belief or activity discrimination in the workplace

Half of the religious belief or activity discrimination complaints that come to us are work related (50 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 religious belief or activity discrimination in the workplace

  • Refusing to allow a staff member to wear a hijab or dastaar without there being a sound health and safety reason.
  • Not hiring someone because their name is associated with a particular religion.
  • Not considering a staff member’s request for flexible working during winter so they can get home before sunset for Sabbath.

What about vilification?

Racial and religious vilification is also against the law.

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act protects you from vilification, which means

  • something done in public, which is
  • based on the race or religion of a person or group of people, and is
  • encouraging other people to hate or ridicule them.

The legal definition of vilification is “behaviour that incites hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule for a person or group of people, because of their race or religion”.

Comments, jokes or other acts related to the race or religion of a person may not be seen as vilification, but they could still be the basis for a complaint of discrimination if they take place in one of the areas of public life covered by the Equal Opportunity Act.

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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