Direct discrimination may occur when a person is treated less favourably than another person on the grounds of family status. For example, a woman is transferred to a less favourable job after childbirth because her employer thinks that she has to take care of her child and will not be able to take business trips.
Indirect discrimination may occur when a condition or requirement that is not justifiable is applied to everyone, but in practice adversely affects persons who have family status. For example, a company insists that all its employees work overtime and a widower who has to take care of his young children cannot comply with that condition. The company then dismisses him. The widower feels aggrieved because, as a single parent, he cannot comply with that condition. If the company cannot justify why each and every employee must work overtime, this could be a case of indirect discrimination on the grounds of family status.
A solicitor might not be able to provide with you a fee quote without first hearing from you the factual details of the case in these circumstances. OneLawyer will, in any event, provide their hourly rates for your reference.
How to complain
If you have been discriminated against, you should first complain to the person responsible for the discriminatory conduct. If the complaint is job-related, you can lodge a complaint with your organization's management or seek other forms of help from your staff association or labour union (if you belong to one). If the complaint is related to the provision of goods, services, facilities, or an educational establishment, you can lodge a complaint with the relevant service providers and request improvement.
If you fail to get any positive reply after complaining to the discriminator, you can lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). Alternatively, you may bring your case to the District Court.
Remember to make a record of what has happened as soon as possible while the incident is still fresh in your mind. The information will help you recall details at a later date should you wish to lodge a complaint, or take legal action.
If you have been treated badly because you acted as a witness or provided information for a friend or colleague who lodged a complaint, you can also lodge a complaint of "victimisation" (see section 9 of the SDO, section 7 of the DDO , section 6 of the FSDO or section 6 of the RDO ). You should immediately inform those who are dealing with your friend's or colleague's complaint such as their representing lawyer or the EOC.
Lodging a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission
You need to lodge your complaint in writing and provide the following information:
- details of the discriminatory acts and the dates involved;
- your personal information including your name and contact information. Other information required includes: sex or state of pregnancy (for sex discrimination), nature of your disability (for disability discrimination), or marital status and number of children (for family status discrimination), or race (for race discrimination);
- name of the discriminator/respondent (i.e. name of the person or company that discriminated against you) and their contact information;
- information supporting your claim of discrimination, harassment, vilification or victimisation;
- details of any detriment or emotional disturbance you have suffered because of the discriminatory acts;
- information pertaining to any witness(es), such as their contact information and what they witnessed.
You may lodge your complaint through the EOC's on-line complaint form, by fax,, by post, or in person. After a complaint is received, the EOC will first investigate the complaint and decide if the complaint has substantial grounds. If the complaint does not have substantial grounds, it will be discontinued. If there are substantial grounds, the EOC may proceed to conciliation or decide to start legal proceedings.
Time limit for lodging a complaint
If you would like to lodge a complaint with the EOC, you need to do it within 12 months of the incident. If you decide to take legal proceedings to the District Court, you need to do it within 24 months of the incident. You should try to seek legal advice before taking any legal action.
EOC handling a complaint
The EOC is required by law to investigate the complaint. Allegations by the complainant are sent to the respondent/discriminator for comment. Responses (if any) are then made available to the complainant. Witness statements are taken and pertinent materials are gathered to see if the case should be discontinued or proceed to conciliation. All information gathered during the investigation stage is kept confidential from third parties but may be used in court proceedings.
The EOC may decide not to conduct or to discontinue an investigation into a complaint if:
- more than 12 months have passed since the discriminatory act was done;
- the act complained of is not unlawful;
- the aggrieved person does not desire to continue with the investigation;
- the complaint cannot be pursued appropriately only as a representative complaint (i.e. the complaint should be personally lodged by the aggrieved person instead of being lodged through a representative);
- the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance.
After receiving a complaint, the EOC must first carry out an investigation and decide whether to discontinue the case, or proceed to conciliation. When the investigation is completed, either side can also request that the case be settled through conciliation. However, conciliation is completely voluntary and either party can stop the process at any time.
The conciliator of the EOC assists both parties to examine the issues that led to the complaint, identify points of agreement and negotiate a settlement to the dispute. The conciliator does not represent either side but only acts as a facilitator.
Bringing the case to court
If the conciliation is not successful, the complainant can apply to the EOC for legal assistance to commence a civil lawsuit in the District Court. The granting of legal assistance by the EOC is not guaranteed. It may be granted if the EOC thinks that it is unreasonable, because of the complexity of the case or the complainant's position in relation to the respondent, to expect the complainant to deal with the case unaided.
Legal assistance may include the giving of legal advice, representation by the EOC's lawyers, legal representation by outside lawyers or any other form of assistance the EOC considers appropriate. A committee of the EOC considers all applications. If you wish to seek further information from the EOC, please click here.
If you fail to get legal assistance from the EOC, you may consider the Legal Aid Scheme run by the Legal Aid Department. Before obtaining legal aid, you need to go through a financial means test and a case merits test.
Any aggrieved person can go to the District Court directly and initiate a civil lawsuit under the law without going through the EOC. However, you are strongly recommended to consult a lawyer before taking legal action.
On the other hand, the EOC cannot entertain applications for legal assistance unless you have been through its complaints system and conciliation has proved to be unsuccessful. In such cases, the EOC may grant legal assistance if it thinks it is appropriate to do so.