Communtity Law Manual | Discrimination | Race, gender and other illegal grounds of discrimination

Race, gender and other illegal grounds of discrimination

Core protections: The illegal grounds of discrimination

Human Rights Act 1993, s 21

The anti-discrimination laws cover unfair treatment against you because of certain personal characteristics – like gender, race and disability.

This list of illegal grounds (called “prohibited grounds” in the Human Rights Act) has grown longer since anti-discrimination laws were first introduced in the 1970s. For example, sexual orientation was only added to the list in 1994.

The illegal grounds are set out in the following sections.

Race, nationality and minority rights

Other protections around race and ethnicity
  • Racial harassment and hostility – The anti-discrimination laws also make it illegal for someone to racially harass you or to encourage hostility against you: see below, “Racist harassment and hostility”.
  • Civil rights of ethnic minorities – If you belong to a minority ethnic group in New Zealand, the government can't deny you the right to use or practise your culture or language together with others from that minority group.

Gender identity and sexual orientation

  • Human Rights Act 1993, s 21(1)(a), (m)

    Gender identity – You can't be discriminated against because of your gender, including being trans, a-gender, non-binary or gender non-conforming (the ground of “sex”).
  • Sexual orientation – You can't be discriminated against for being gay, lesbian or bisexual (the ground of “sexual orientation”). See the chapter “Gender and sexuality” for more information.

Family, relationships, and family violence

  • Human Rights Act 1993, ss 21(1)(a), (b), (l), 62A Children, pregnancy and relatives – You can't be discriminated against because you've got children or other dependants (the ground of “family status”), or because you're pregnant (the ground of “sex” – for example, if your boss discriminates against you for breastfeeding or being on maternity leave). It's also illegal to discriminate against you because you're related to a particular person, including if they're your spouse or partner (“family status”).
  • Relationship status – You can't be discriminated against because of being single; or married or in a civil union or de facto relationship; or separated or divorced (including if you've split up from your de facto partner), or widowed (the ground of “marital status”).
Family violence: Discrimination by employers

Human Rights Act 1993, s 62A

Employers can't discriminate against you because you are, or have been, a victim of family violence. This includes when you're applying for a job, or if your current boss finds out you're a victim of family violence.

This ground, introduced in April 2019, applies specifically and only to employment, as part of new laws focused on supporting family violence victims in the workplace.

Disabilities

  • Human Rights Act 1993, s 21(1)(h)

    Disability, illness or other impairment – You can't be discriminated against because you've got a physical disability or illness (including having a virus like HIV or hepatitis); a mental illness; an intellectual disability; assistance like a guide dog or wheelchair; or any other physical or psychological loss or abnormality (the ground of “disability”). See the chapter “Disability rights” for more information about protections against disability discrimination in areas such as jobs, housing, and access to shops and services.

Being unemployed or on a benefit

  • Human Rights Act 1993, s 21(1)(k)

    Employment status – You can't be discriminated against because you're unemployed or on a benefit. The ground of “employment status” covers being unemployed, or getting a Work and Income benefit or ACC payments like weekly compensation.

Age, if you're 16 or older

  • Human Rights Act 1993, s 21(1)(i)

    Age – It's not illegal to discriminate against children under 16 on the basis of their age (although they're protected from discrimination on other grounds, like disability). However, once you're 16 you're protected against age discrimination – so (for example) it's illegal for an employer to refuse to hire you solely because of your age, whether it's because they think you're too young or too old (the ground of “age”).

Political and religious views

  • Human Rights Act 1993, s 21(1)(c), (d), (j); New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 20

    Political opinions – You can't be discriminated against for your political views, including for not having a particular political opinion (the ground of “political opinion”). Union membership isn't specifically an illegal ground of discrimination, but discrimination because of your union activities in your workplace could be discrimination on the basis of “political opinion” if what you're doing is clearly linked to a particular policy of the government of the day.
  • Religion and atheism – You can't be discriminated against for your religious beliefs, including because you don't have a particular religion or don't have any religion (the ground of “religious belief”). If you belong to a religious minority group in New Zealand, the government can't deny you the right to use or practise your religion together with others from that minority group.
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