Using your rights

Everyone is entitled to have and express their own personal beliefs including religious beliefs. You don’t have to put up with behaviour that denigrates you or your beliefs. Harassment is often repeated unless action is taken. It may impact on how you feel about work, study or accessing services.

Employers also have a responsibility to take steps to prevent harassment and to respond to complaints. This includes harassment by employees or clients.

You may have been harassed if someone: makes offensive remarks or jokes about your religion or beliefs or shows you religiously offensive material in the workplace.

Religious harassment may also be unintentional. The person who is being offensive may be unaware of its effect, but they can still be held responsible. What is important is how the behaviour affects you or others.

What you can do about harassment

You should firstly keep a record of incidents you find offensive. It's also a good idea to talk it over with someone you trust and who will keep the information confidential. This may help clarify your best course of action.

You should firstly keep a record of incidents you find offensive. It's also a good idea to talk it over with someone you trust and who will keep the information confidential. This may help clarify your best course of action.

Speak to the person who is harassing you and tell them you want them to stop, otherwise you will complain. You can do this in person, in a letter, or with a union or other representative. If this doesn’t work, or is inappropriate, you can seek advice and assistance from:

  • a racial harassment contact person (many workplaces have a harassment policy)
  • a manager or school counsellor
  • the Human Rights Commission
  • your union representative or a lawyer
  • a professional disciplinary body
  • the police
  • the Employment Relations Service (if you have been harassed at work).
  • Phone 0800 20 90 20.

Other organisations and individuals who can help you with initial advice and clarification include your local Member of Parliament or Community Law Centre.

What the Commission can do

We can advise you on whether your complaint is covered by the Human Rights Act and if it is we can help with mediation.

If mediation doesn’t work, we can advise you on your legal options. Learn more in our Enquiries, Complaints and Support section, or call our Infoline on 0800 496 877. Our service is free and confidential.

The main focus of our service is on resolving disputes involving unlawful discrimination, such as on the grounds of age, gender, ethnicity, or disability. But we can also help you with advice on broader human rights issues.

What happens if you think your human rights have been breached

If you think you have suffered a breach of your human rights, our Enquiries, Complaints and Support section has more information about how we can help, and your options. You can also read the Resolving Discrimination and Harassment Guide.

If your complaint involves discrimination and we cannot resolve it informally, you will be entitled to ask the Office of Human Rights Proceedings to provide you with free legal representation.

Wearing cultural, religious items

People should be able to wear jewellery such as a cross and taonga when these express their religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs.

Discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and/or ethnic or national origins is not allowed under the Human Rights Act and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. This means that if your workplace or school does not let you wear items that significantly reflect your religion or cultural beliefs, it might be unlawful discrimination.

Follow the link to learn what to do if you are stopped from wearing items to expressing your cultural, religious, or national identity at work or school.

The Commission has published a report titled: Muslim Women, Dress Codes and Human Rights: An Introduction to Some of the Issues which may provide some guidance.

Religious diversity at work

The report, Religious diversity in the workplace: questions and concerns, raises awareness of issues that may arise and offers guidance in understanding and accommodating religious diversity in the workplace.

If you have further questions about the laws that protect your rights you can view our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Celebrating your rights

New Zealand is one of the most diverse nations on earth. The Commission facilitates a number of projects, programmes, and events that allow you to celebrate our nations diversity: