NZ Human Rights Commission - Accessible HTML Document
Enquiries and Complaints
The Human Rights Commission offers a free, informal enquiries and complaints service to deal with issues of discrimination and racial and sexual harassment.
Discrimination happens when a person is treated unfairly or less favourably than others in similar circumstances.
If you think you have faced discrimination, you can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. The Commission can help by providing advice and information and, if necessary, by mediating your complaint.
The Human Rights Act makes it unlawful to discriminate based on these grounds:
- Sex – includes pregnancy and childbirth; and discrimination against transgender and intersex people because of their sex or gender identity
- Marital status – includes marriages and civil unions that have ended
- Religious belief – not limited to traditional or mainstream religions
- Ethical belief – not having a religious belief
- Colour, race, or ethnic or national origins – includes nationality or citizenship
- Disability – including physical, psychiatric, intellectual or psychological disability or illness
- Age – people are protected from age discrimination if they are over 16 years old
- Political opinion – including not having a political opinion
- Employment status – being unemployed, on a benefi or on ACC. It does not include being employed or being on national superannuation
- Family status – includes not being responsible for children or other dependants
- Sexual orientation – being heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian or bisexual.
The grounds apply to a person’s past, present or assumed circumstances. For example, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because they have a mental illness, had one in the past, or someone assumes they have a mental illness.
Not all discrimination is unlawful. The Human Rights Act may make it unlawful when it occurs in:
- government or public sector activities
- business partnerships
- public places, vehicles and facilities
- goods and services
- land, housing and accommodation
- industrial and professional associations, qualifying bodies and vocational training bodies.
Sexual and racial harassment
Sexual harassment and racial harassment are particular types of discrimination.
- Sexual harassment is unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour that is repeated or significant enough to have a harmful effect on a person.
- Racial harassment is behaviour that is racist, hurtful or offensive and is either repeated or serious enough to have a harmful effect on a person.
Indirect discrimination is when an action or policy that appears to treat everyone the same actually discriminates against someone. For example, if the only entrance to a shop is by climbing stairs, that indirectly discriminates against someone who uses a wheelchair.
Other human rights complaints
You can still contact the Human Rights Commission if your complaint is about other human rights issues. The enquiries and complaints service can help by providing advice and information, and by suggesting how best to resolve your issue.
Often conduct that is unlawful under the Act is also covered by other laws. This means issues can be dealt with by making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission or to another organisation.
You do not have to make a choice, initially, about whether to go to the Human Rights Commission or to another body.
The courts and the police
Some behaviour that is unlawful under the Act may also be a criminal offence. For example, some types of sexual harassment may also be sexual assaults. Some types of incitement of racial disharmony may qualify as offensive behaviour.
People can make a complaint under the Act and also lay criminal charges with the police or begin proceedings through the courts about the same matter. You do not have to choose one option or the other.
The Human Rights Act protects people from being victimised because they contacted the Commission about a complaint or supported another person to make a complaint.
Do you have a human rights complaint?
The first step is to contact our InfoLine team. Just phone, email, fax or visit our website.
It’s free, confidential and you don’t need a lawyer. Staff will provide information to help resolve your complaint. The Act determines whether the Human Rights Commission can accept a complaint. If it looks like the issue is unlawful discrimination, you will be referred to one of our mediators.
This is free, confidential and impartial. A mediator will assist both parties to work through the issues raised by the complaint. Mediation includes explaining the Human Rights Act and working through possible solutions.
Most complaints are sorted out by informal intervention or mediation. The end result can include: an apology, an agreement not to do the same thing in the future, taking an education or training programme, or compensation.
If your complaint about discrimination is not resolved at mediation, you can take legal action. At this stage, human rights complaints are heard before the Human Rights Review Tribunal. This is like a court. You can apply for free legal representation.