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Individual rights & freedoms

Areas of life where discrimination is illegal

Jobs and employment

Applying for jobs

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 19(2) Human Rights Act 1993, ss 22(1), 20L

If you’re qualified for the relevant job, it’s illegal for an employer to refuse or fail to hire you on any of the illegal grounds of discrimination, or to offer or hire you on less favourable pay or work conditions than other people with similar qualifications. This applies whether the employer is a private business or a government organisation.

Advertising, application forms and interviews

Human Rights Act 1993, ss 23, 67

It’s illegal for employers to publish or display any advertising that indicates they intend to discriminate illegally. It’s also illegal for a potential employer to give you a job application form or to ask you questions that indicate they will discriminate illegally.

Can my employer ask me about my criminal convictions?

Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004

It’s not illegal for an employer to ask if you have a criminal record. They can only get a criminal record check if you agree in writing – but they don’t have to hire you if you refuse.

A criminal record check will include your criminal conviction history, except for any convictions that are wiped by the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 (see: “The clean slate scheme”).

If your convictions have been wiped by the clean slate scheme, you don’t have to tell your employer about them even if they ask you directly. However, the clean slate scheme doesn’t apply if you’re applying for certain types of jobs (see: “Do I have to tell my employers about my criminal convictions?”).

Being discriminated against in your current job

Human Rights Act 1993, ss 2, 22(1) Equal Pay Act 1972 Employment Relations Act 2000, s 103(1)(c)

It’s illegal for your boss to discriminate against you on any of the illegal grounds of discrimination by:

  • offering you or employing you on less favourable conditions than those offered or granted to other people with the same or similar qualifications
  • disadvantaging you at work when other employees aren’t treated the same way
  • dismissing you or making you retire or resign.

Those protections apply to contract workers as well as to employees.

Note: If your boss discriminates against you because of your gender or any other prohibited ground, you can either take a claim against them to the ERA (see: “Resolving employment problems”) or complain to the Human Rights Commission (see: “Taking action: What you can do if you’re discriminated against”)

Exceptions that allow discrimination in employment

Human Rights Act 1993, ss 24–34

There’s a wide range of exceptions that allow employers to discriminate against people. These are some of them:

  • Jobs in private homes – If the job is in a private home (a job as a housekeeper, for example), you can be discriminated against on the basis of sex (gender), religious or ethical belief, disability, age, political opinion, or sexual orientation.
  • Genuine qualifications – You can be discriminated against on the basis of your sex or age if this is a genuine requirement for the job – for example, hiring bar staff (who must be 18 or older) or hiring an actor for an acting job.
  • Privacy – You can be discriminated against on the basis of your sex or gender if the job is one where privacy needs to be protected (for example, a job as an attendant in a changing room).
  • Organised religion – You can be discriminated against on the basis of gender if the job is with a religious group and that religion requires a person of a particular gender to do the job.
  • Disability – If you have a disability, employers don’t have to provide you with special services or facilities if it would be unreasonable for them to have to do this (see: “Employment: Access to jobs and protection against discrimination
  • Youth rates – Employers can pay you lower wage rates depending on your age.

Human Rights Act 1993, s 35

Note: An employer can’t use one of those exceptions to justify discriminating against you if, with just some minor adjustments, they could get another employee to do the particular work tasks that they are concerned about – for example, some maintenance or cleaning duties in a male or female changing room.

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Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata/Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission website provides information about human rights in Aotearoa and outlines how you can make a complaint to the Commission.

Website: www.tikatangata.org.nz or www.hrc.co.nz
Email: infoline@hrc.co.nz
Phone:  0800 496 877 (0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS)

To make a complaint online, download a complaint form or find out more about the complaints process: www.tikatangata.org.nz/resources-and-support/make-a-complaint

Human Rights Review Tribunal

This website provides information about the tribunal and the hearing process and contains the relevant application forms.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/human-rights

Make a claim to the Human Rights Review Tribunal: www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/human-rights/make-a-claim

The Office of Human Rights Proceedings

The Office of Human Rights Proceedings can provide free legal representation to people wanting to bring unlawful discrimination proceedings in the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Website: www.tikatangata.org.nz/about-us/office-of-human-rights-proceedings
Email: ohrp@ohrp.org.nz
Phone: 09 375 8623

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