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Communtity Law Manual | Discrimination | Jobs and employment

Jobs, shops, flats and other 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 you 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.

Questions about criminal convictions

Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004

It’s not illegal for an employer to ask if you have a criminal record. However, you have the right, in some situations, not to tell employers about your criminal convictions. To be able to do this you must not have had any convictions in the last seven years, and you must have never been sentenced to prison (see “The clean slate scheme” in the chapter “The criminal courts”). This means that even if the employer asks you directly, you can tell them that you have no criminal record.

Being discriminated against in your current job

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

It’s illegal for your boss to discriminate against you in any of the following ways:

  • 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.

Human Rights Act 1993, s 2

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

Note: If your boss discriminates against you because of your gender, you can either take a claim against them to the Employment Relations Authority (see the chapter “Resolving employment problems”) or complain to the Human Rights Commission (see “Taking action: What you can do if you’re discriminated against” later in this chapter).

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. For more information, see the chapter “Disability rights”, under “Employment: Access to jobs and protection against discrimination”.
  • Youth rates – Employers can pay you lower wage rates if you’re under 20.

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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