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Unfair treatment, discrimination or harassment at work

Racial harassment at work

Racial harassment by employers or other people in authority

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 103, 109

You may have a personal grievance if you’re racially harassed by your employer or a manager or supervisor. Racial harassment in this context means where the other person uses language (whether written or spoken), visual material or physical behaviour that, either directly or indirectly:

  • expresses hostility against you, or brings you into contempt or ridicule, based on your race, colour or ethnic or national origins, and
  • is hurtful or offensive to you (whether or not you convey this to the other person), and
  • has a negative effect on your employment, job performance, or job satisfaction, either because of the kind of language, material or behaviour that it is, or because it’s repeated.

Racial harassment by co-workers, customers or clients

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 103, 109, 117, 118

You may also have a personal grievance against your employer for racial harassment if one of your co-workers or one of your employer’s customers or clients racially harasses you and your employer doesn’t take the necessary action. For what racial harassment means in this context, see above “Racial harassment by employers or other people in authority”.

If you’re racially harassed by a co-worker, customer or client, you can complain to the employer. Your employer must then investigate your complaint. If the employer is reasonably satisfied that you have a good case, they must take all reasonable steps to stop the harassment from happening again.

If the harassment happens again after you’ve complained, and your employer hasn’t taken practicable steps to prevent it, you can bring a personal grievance against your employer.

What should I do if I experience racial harassment in the workplace?

Employment Relations Act 2000, s 112

If you suffer racial harassment in the workplace you can bring a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act or you can complain to the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Act (see the chapter “Discrimination”).

You can’t do both. If you decide to go through the Employment Relations Act you must raise your personal grievance within 90 days. On the other hand, you have more time to complain to the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission also covers a wider group of workers than the Employment Relations Act, including voluntary workers, self-employed and pre-employment situations.

Discrimination in employment against people affected by family violence

Human Rights Act 1993, s 62A

If you’re discriminated against in the workplace because you’re affected by family violence, you can complain to the Human Rights Commission. This includes when you’re applying for a job and also if you’re doing unpaid work.

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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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