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What is unlawful discrimination?

The Human Rights Act protects people in New Zealand from discrimination. The Act outlines what behaviours are against the law, and the process for protecting your rights. Here is a summary of the types of discrimination you can complain about under the Act.

What the law protects you against

The Human Rights Act 1993 makes it unlawful to discriminate based on:

  • 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 benefit 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.
  • Family violence experience – applies to employees and job applicants affected by family violence.

These 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.

The prohibited grounds for discrimination are covered in detail in part two of the Human Rights Act.

Where is discrimination unlawful?

Not all discrimination is unlawful. Discrimination may be unlawful when it happens in the following areas of public life:

  • Government or public sector activities
  • Employment
  • Business partnerships
  • Education
  • Public places, vehicles and facilities
  • The provision of goods and services
  • The provision of land, housing and accommodation
  • Industrial and professional associations, qualifying bodies and vocational training bodies.