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It against the law to discriminate against someone because of their personal characteristics, but sometimes an exception may apply. The law recognises that discrimination may be justified in certain circumstances. General exceptions apply across all areas of public life protected by the law. Specific exceptions apply to certain characteristics and areas of public life.

What are exceptions?

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 makes discrimination against the law, but it also recognises the need to balance rights. It outlines some exceptions, which means that discrimination may not be against the law in particular circumstances.

Please note, the following information is a guide only and is not a full list of exceptions. To avoid doubt about whether an exception might apply, please check the the Equal Opportunity Act or seek further legal advice.

What if I can’t see an exception that applies?

If you can’t see an exception that applies to your action or circumstances, it may be a special measure or require a temporary exemption from the Act.

Is your action a special measure?

If your action is not included in the list of exceptions but you are wanting to take action to support disadvantaged groups, this may be a special measure.

The law makes it clear that these actions are allowed and are not unlawful discrimination.

Does your action need an exemption?

If an exception or special measure does not apply, in some circumstances a temporary exemption  from the Act may be sought from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

To apply for an exemption your action must be a reasonable limitation on the right to equality set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

General exceptions

General exceptions apply to discrimination in all areas of public life, such as situations where discrimination is necessary to protect someone’s health and safety.

This means that discrimination may not be against the law in particular circumstances.


Specific exceptions

Unlike general exceptions, which apply to all areas of public life, specific exceptions only apply to certain areas.

They can also apply to specific personal characteristics protected by the law.

For example, schools and other educational institutions may run programs for students with a disability or students of a particular:

  • sex
  • race
  • religious belief
  • age group.

The exception allows education providers to target their programs to the needs of particular groups. Students may not be eligible for these programs if they do not have the relevant personal characteristics.

Some exceptions also work to identify and protect conduct that benefits disadvantaged or vulnerable groups.

Exceptions in places of discrimination

Exceptions apply to certain areas of public life including:

Exceptions in types of discrimination

Exceptions apply to specific personal characteristics protected by the law including:

Factsheet: Religious exception reforms – Equal Opportunity Act 2010

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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.