Using your rights

Discrimination happens when someone is treated unfairly or less favourably than another person in the same or similar circumstances. You don’t have to put up with behaviour you don’t like and discrimination 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 discrimination and harassment and to respond to complaints. This includes harassment by employees or clients.

You may have been harassed or discriminated if someone: makes offensive remarks or jokes about your race, colour, ethnicity or nationality; mimics the way you walk, act, or speak; calls you offensive names; or shows you offensive material in the workplace.

Discrimination 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.

For information presented in NZSL please visit this section here.

What you can do about discrimination

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 discrimination contact person (many workplaces have a discrimination 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, the Health and Disability Commissioner, a Disability advocacy group or Community Law Centre. Visit more info to see a full list of groups who can help.

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 on how to make a complaint.

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.

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

Making complaints - a guide for mental health service users

The Commission has published a guide to help people make a complaint about a service or treatment received for a mental health issue. Read the guide and learn more here.

Your rights in the workplace

The Human Rights Act makes it clear that reasonable steps should be taken in educational and work environments and in the delivery of public services to recognise and accommodate people with disabilities. Read more here.

Using disability rights language

One of the key aims of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is to promote respect for disabled people’s dignity. The language we use reflects our attitudes to, and respect for people with disability.

These guidelines have been developed as a practical tool to help us when talking or writing to, and about, disabled people. They apply in external and internal communications.

To read the Guide to Using Disability Rights Language click here.

Making disability rights real

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disability Convention) focuses on the human rights of disabled people. To help monitor the implementation of the Disability Convention, a monitoring group has been set up to report on the Government’s performance. Learn more here.

Disability rights reports

To achieve full inclusion, a barrier-free physical and social environment is necessary. The Commission, in consultation with the community, has identified three key areas where disabled people continue to face barriers: the built environment; the accessing of  information and political participation. Click on this link to read our disability rights reports.

The Commission launched its major report card on the state of human rights in New Zealand. As part of this there is a chapter on the rights of people with disabilities. You can read it here: Rights of disabled people – Tikanga o te hunga haua (also available in Word and HTML).

Celebrating your rights