Discrimination by employers relating to women wearing headscarves for religious reasons has landed a few employers in hot water as it is unlawful to discriminate on grounds of religion. 10 complaints of this nature were reported to the Human Rights Commission over the last two years.

Two of those complaints included women who were told during job interviews that their headscarves were unsuitable for the prospective job. One woman was told due to health and safety regulations, wearing her headscarf was not appropriate. When she provided other ways she could wear her headscarf to better suit those requirements, the suggestions were ignored. Health & Safety was not actually a real factor in the discrimination. Both of the companies involved endeavoured to make amends after the incidents and both stated that the beliefs of the employees doing the hiring in the interviews were not the beliefs or values of their companies.

It is against the law to discriminate against employees or prospective employees on the basis of age, race or colour, ethnicity or national origins, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religious or ethical belief, marital status, employment status or political opinion.

There are some exceptions when hiring a potential employee where discrimination may be justified, for example, when hiring an actor for a specific role; age, race or gender may be taken into consideration. Some governmental or political jobs or jobs involving national security may also involve discrimination based on religious or ethical beliefs, or political opinions.

Employers must be careful not to ask questions or take actions that indicate discrimination on one of the prohibited grounds. If an employer suspects discrimination between employees then action should be taken to deal with the behaviour. A failure to act can get the employer in trouble.  If an employee feels discriminated against, they should raise this with their employer as soon as possible to give the employer a chance to fix the situation. If it is not resolved they should seek advice from an experienced professional.