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Unfair treatment, discrimination or harassment at work

Discrimination at work

The illegal grounds of discrimination

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 103, 105, 107

You’ll usually be able to bring a personal grievance based on discrimination if your employer treats you unfairly on any of these grounds:

  • your race or national origins
  • your gender identity or sexual orientation
  • your relationship status
  • you have children or are pregnant
  • you’re a victim of family violence
  • your age (if you’re 16 or older)
  • disability
  • your religious beliefs or political opinions
  • your employment status
  • you’re a union member (or you intend to join), or you’re involved in union activities.

Employment Relations Act 2000, s 112

Note: If you’re discriminated against at work, you can bring a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act 2000 or you can complain to the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Act 1993 (see the chapter “Discrimination”). You can’t do both.

What kinds of action could count as discrimination?

This can be if your employer does any of the following things based on one of the illegal grounds of discrimination listed above:

Employment Relations Act 2000, s 104

  • dismissing you or disadvantaging you in some way
  • refusing you, or failing to offer you, the same:
    • terms of employment
    • conditions of work
    • fringe benefits
    • opportunities for training, promotion, or transfer as other employees with similar qualifications and in similar circumstances
  • requiring you to resign or retire.

For some examples of disability discrimination cases where the worker took a personal grievance, see the chapter “Disability rights” under “Employment: Access to jobs and protection against discrimination”.

Exceptions where employers are allowed to discriminate

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 105, 106

The illegal grounds of discrimination in employment law (except involvement in union activities) are the same as the grounds in the Human Rights Act 1993. However, in both cases the right to freedom from discrimination in employment is not absolute. There are some circumstances where different treatment of employees on the illegal grounds is acceptable (see the chapter “Discrimination”).

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Resolving employment problems

Where to go for more support

Community Law

www.communitylaw. org.nz

Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice if you’re facing problems at work.

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment


The Employment Relations website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment has a range of information on personal grievances, mediation, the Employment Relations Authority and the Employment Court. This includes a pamphlet contained information on all those topics, called “Solving Problems at Work”.

Free phone 0800 20 90 20, for general enquiries about resolving employment problems.

Early Resolution Service


The Early Resolution Service is a service offered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment. It is a free phone-based service to help employees and employers resolve workplace issues before it becomes too serious or needs a more formal process.

For more information on the Early Resolution Service, you can fill out the form on www.employment.govt.nz or call 0800 20 90 20.

Labour inspectors

Labour inspectors monitor and enforce minimum employment conditions. To refer a problem to a labour inspector, you contact the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment on: Free phone 0800 20 90 20

Employment Relations Authority


If you’re unable to settle at mediation, the next step is to file your claim in the Employment Relations Authority. For more information, visit the Authority’s website.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Te Kauae Kaimahi


Phone: (04) 385 1334
Email: info@nzctu.org.nz

Union members should contact their union for support in resolving problems at work.

Immigration New Zealand


Free phone: 0508 558 855
Phone: (09) 914 4100 (Auckland)
Phone: (04) 910 9915 (Wellington)

The Immigration New Zealand website has extensive information about the various types of visas and other immigration issues. There is also specific information on human trafficking and the help that’s available for people trapped in these situations.

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