From 14 June 2022, (in Victoria) religious organisations and schools will no longer be able to sack or refuse to hire people based on protected attributes such as sexuality, gender identity or marital status. Religious organisations and schools will only be able to make employment decisions based on an employee’s religious beliefs where these are inherent to the job such as a religious studies teacher, and the discrimination is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.
The Victorian Government recently made changes to the Equal Opportunity Act (2010). These changes came into effect on 14 June 2022.
Under the changes, religious bodies and schools are prohibited from discriminating (except in limited circumstances where the discrimination is reasonable and proportionate) against people based on:
- sexual orientation
- lawful sexual activity
- marital status
- parental status
- gender identity.
These changes ensure a fairer balance between the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from discrimination.
Discrimination by religious bodies and schools in relation to employment
From 14 June 2022, religious bodies and schools can only discriminate against employees or potential employees where:
- conformity with religious beliefs is an inherent (i.e. core, essential or important) requirement of the job
- the other person cannot meet that inherent requirement because of their religious belief or activity
- the discrimination is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.
Discrimination by religious bodies and schools in other circumstances
From 14 June 2022, schools can only discriminate based on a student, or prospective student’s, religious beliefs or activities. However, the discrimination must be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances and:
- to do so would conform with the school’s doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion, or
- the discrimination is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of the school’s religion.
Further changes will on occur on 14 December 2022 for religious bodies that provide goods or services funded by the Victorian Government. From this date, when providing goods and services funded by the Victorian Government, religious bodies will only be able to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief. They will not be able to discriminate based on other personal characteristics.
Discrimination by individuals
There is no longer an exception for individuals. This means an individual will not be able to discriminate against another person in the circumstances covered by the Equal Opportunity Act in order to comply with their religious beliefs.
What will not change
The government has not changed the law that allows religious bodies and schools to discriminate in relation to:
- ordaining or appointing priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
- training or educating people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
- selecting or appointing people to perform functions relating to, or participating in, any religious observance or practice.