Communtity Law Manual | Discrimination | Other protections against unfair treatment:Sexual and racial harassment

Race, gender and other illegal grounds of discrimination

Other protections against unfair treatment:
Sexual and racial harassment

The anti-discrimination laws make it illegal for you to be sexually harassed or racially harassed by employers, landlords, shopkeepers, government staff and others who you deal with in public life. In these cases, the first action you can take is to complain to the Human Rights Commission: see in this chapter “Taking action: What you can do if you're discriminated against”.

Note: If you're sexually harassed by an individual in your community – for example, if they harass you whenever you go to a local park, or if they leave notes in your letterbox – this doesn't amount to illegal discrimination that you can take to the Human Rights Commission. However, that kind of harassment in the community may be covered by the anti-harassment laws in the Harassment Act. Also, if it happens online (for example, through text messages or on Facebook), it may be covered by the anti-harassment laws in the Harmful Digital Communications Act. For more information about harassment in the community and online, see the chapter “Harassment and bullying”.

Sexual harassment

Human Rights Act 1993, s 62

The anti-discrimination laws make sexual harassment illegal if it happens in an area of public life, like employment, housing, education or government services.

What counts as “sexual harassment”?

The anti-discrimination laws recognise two types of sexual harassment:

  • Requests for sexual contact – It's unlawful for someone to ask you for sex or any other form of sexual contact if there's also a promise that you'll be treated better because of it or a threat that you'll be treated worse if you refuse. The promise or threat can be explicit or implicit.
  • Offensive or unwelcome sexual behaviour – It's unlawful for someone to subject you to sexual behaviour that you find unwelcome or offensive (whether or not you make this known to the other person), if the behaviour is significant enough to have a harmful effect on you in that particular area of life (such as education). The behaviour might be significant either because there was a single significant incident or because something relatively minor was repeated. The offensive or unwelcome behaviour might involve written or spoken language (such as sexual jokes), visual material (such as sexually explicit posters), or physical behaviour (such as patting or pinching you).

    Note: Sexual or racial harassment at work is illegal under both the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Employment Relations Act 2000 (see “Personal grievances” in the chapter “Resolving employment problems”). If you're sexually or racially harassed in your workplace, you have the options of going to the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Act or taking a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act, but not both. The Human Rights Act also covers you if you're harassed when applying for a job or doing volunteer work, but the Employment Relations Act doesn't.

Racist harassment and hostility

Racial harassment

The anti-discrimination laws make racist harassment illegal if it happens in an area of public life, like employment, housing, education or government services. The first action you can take is complaining to the Human Rights Commission.

Saying or writing racist things – “inciting racial hostility” – can also be illegal under the anti-discrimination laws.

What amounts to “racial harassment”?

Human Rights Act 1993, s 63

Racial harassment is language, visual material or physical behaviour that:

  • expresses hostility against you or brings you into contempt or ridicule because of your colour, race, or ethnic or national origins, and
  • is hurtful or offensive to you (whether or not you make this known to the other person), and
  • is either repeated or is significant enough to have a detrimental effect on you in the particular area of life. It might be significant either because there was a single significant incident or because something relatively minor was repeated.

“Inciting racial disharmony”: Saying or writing racist things

Human Rights Act 1993, ss 61, 131

In some cases it's illegal to say, or to write and publish, things that are threatening, abusive or insulting towards groups who live in or might come to New Zealand, when the things are said or written because of the group's race, ethnicity or nationality.

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