Standard view Zoom in Zoom in more

A Brief Guide to the Sex Discrimination Act

This Guide is only applicable for those staff employed in UCL Australia

A Brief Guide to the Sex Discrimination Act
(adapted from the Australian Human Rights Commission)

1. Introduction

The Act means it is against the law to:

  • discriminate against you because of your sex, marital status, or pregnancy
  • sexually harass you
  • dismiss you from your job because of your family responsibilities

2. What is sex discrimination?

Sex discrimination means being treated unfairly because of your sex or marital status or because you are pregnant or potentially pregnant. It also includes being dismissed from employment because you have family responsibilities.

3. Types of Discrimination

The SDA covers both "direct" sex discrimination and "indirect" sex discrimination. i.e. where there is a requirement (a rule, policy, practice or procedure) that is the same for everyone, but which has an unfair effect on particular groups.

4. Where does unlawful sex discrimination happen?

The Act means it is unlawful to discriminate in many public areas of public life. The most common include:

  • employment
  • awards and enterprise bargaining
  • insurance and superannuation
  • education
  • goods, services or facilities
  • accommodation and housing
  • buying or selling land
  • Commonwealth laws and programs

Employers can be held legally responsible for sex discrimination or sexual harassment by employees

5. What is sexual harassment under the SDA?

Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour which makes a person feel offended or humiliated and that reaction is reasonable in the circumstances. It has nothing to do with mutual attraction or friendship.

Sexual harassment can take many different forms – it can be obvious or indirect, physical or verbal. It includes behaviour which creates a sexually hostile or intimidating environment.

  • unwelcome touching
  • staring or leering
  • suggestive comments or jokes
  • sexually explicit pictures or posters
  • unwanted invitations to go out on dates
  • requests for sex
  • intrusive questions about your private life or body
  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against you
  • insults or taunts based on your sex
  • sexually explicit emails

Who is responsible for sexual harassment?

A person who sexually harasses is primarily responsible for sexual harassment. However, in many cases, employers and others can be held responsible for acts of sexual harassment done by their employees or agents. This applies whether the employee or agent has harassed a co-worker or customer or other person.
Sexual Harassment: A code of practice sets out everything employers need to know about preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. This publication is available on HREOC’s website or by calling 1300 369 711.

HREOC also carries out research and awareness-raising about sex discrimination and harassment, and can examine laws to make sure they are consistent with the Sex Discrimination Act. Information on current projects is available at

7. Equal Pay

The Equal Pay Handbook aims to assist employers to meet their obligations under federal industrial and anti-discrimination legislation. It is also relevant to employees, equity practitioners and unions. It contains essential equal remuneration principles, explanatory material, case law, case studies and an equal remuneration audit methodology. The Handbook is intended to contribute to an understanding of pay equity and the implementation of equal remuneration in the workplace.

8. Maternity Leave

It is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of pregnancy. UCL Australia employees will have access to occupational parental leave in line with UCL policies. The Australian Government Paid Parental Leave Scheme has the following main provisions:
Eligible employees who are the primary carer of a newborn or adopted child get 18 weeks' leave paid at the national minimum wage.

These payments are made to the employer first, who then pays them to the employee. These payments can be paid before, after or at the same time as other entitlements such as annual leave and long service leave.

Paid parental leave from the Australian Government doesn't affect or replace paid parental leave from an employer – an employee can be paid both.

These payments do not affect or replace unpaid parental leave.

This scheme does not provide an entitlement to any additional parental leave.

Visit Centrelink – Paid Parental Leave Scheme for eligibility information and to make a claim for paid parental leave.

9. For more information

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
Telephone (02) 9284 9600
1300 369 711
Complaints Infoline 1300 656 419