Handling complaints

Nature of complaints

There are 16 grounds of unlawful discrimination and nine areas of public life under which a complaint can be lodged and both a ground and an area must be present for a complaint to be accepted under the Act.  Some grounds do not apply in some areas, therefore allegations with a ground but without an appropriate area, cannot be accepted.

There are 16 grounds of discrimination named in the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, and two other grounds of unlawful discrimination arising from other WA Acts, which confer jurisdiction to the EO Commissioner to investigate, conciliate or refer to the Tribunal for determination:

  1. Victimisation for making a disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003
  2. Discrimination on the ground of a spent conviction in employment related areas under the Spent Convictions Act 1988.

If a person alleges they have been discriminated against on one or more grounds, and in one of the areas under the Act, then those allegations will be accepted by the Commission as a complaint, irrespective of how much supporting information is provided.  Before the matter can progress however the complainant needs to provide some substance to the allegation.

Should the Commissioner, after investigating, determine the complaint is to be dismissed under section 89 of the Act as lacking in substance, or because it is misconceived, then the complainant has the right to have the matter referred to the State Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal) for determination.

Where a potential complainant has not clearly identified a ground and area of complaint, they are supplied with information about what constitutes unlawful discrimination under the Act and asked to further clarify their complaint

Numbers of complaints

In 2017-18 there were 472 new complaints received by the Commission.  This is nearly 10% higher than the 430 complaints received in 2016-17.  When looked at over a 30-year period, the number of complaints received has risen and fallen over time with the highest annual number of lodged complaints being 795 complaints in 2011-12 and the lowest number being 240 complaints in 1987-88.

These fluctuations reflect factors including the economic cycle, and in some years, such as 2011 to 2013, a result of a more flexible methodology in accepting complaints, coupled with increased activity by advocacy agencies.

Of the various grounds under the Act, complaints of impairment discrimination have consistently been the highest for many years, followed by race.  This year 26.5% of complaints lodged related to impairment.  Race complaints were second (18.4%), and sexual harassment (10.2%) was the third highest ground of alleged discrimination.

Work is the area of public life which has the highest number of allegations of unlawful discrimination.  In 2017-18, 55.9% of complaints related to employment which is the major category in work.  Figure 3 shows the six highest grounds on which complaints are lodged in the area of work.

Lodgement of complaints

The Act requires complaints to be in writing.  They can be lodged by email, fax, in person, by post or via the website.  Complainants who have difficulty writing are assisted by the Commission.  Complaints may be in any language and their translation to English is arranged by the Commission as required.

Lodgement of complaints on the website and by email continues to increase with 79.4% submitted online this year, compared to 74.9% in 2016-17 and 69.9% in 2015-16.

The number of hard copy complaints arriving by mail have declined with 14.0% submitted this year, compared to 17.4% in 2017-18 and 21.2% in 2015-16.

Eighty two per cent of complaints were lodged without assistance by advocates, while 18% of complainants were assisted in lodging their complaints, Figure 4 shows the breakdown.


The Commission accepts complaints from anyone living, working or visiting Western Australia who alleges unlawful discrimination has occurred in the state according to the grounds and areas of the Act.

This section looks at the characteristics of the people who have lodged complaints. This data is routinely collected from complainants to assist the Commission to continually improve the complaint handling service.


Top five grounds of discrimination

  • Impairment – 125 (26.5%)
  • Race – 87 (18.4%)
  • Sexual harassment – 48 (10.2%)
  • Victimisation – 41 (8.7%)
  • Age – 38 (8.1%)

Top five areas of discrimination

  • Work – 264 (55.9%)
  • Goods, services and facilities – 115 (24.4%)
  • Accommodation – 37 (7.8%)
  • Education – 26 (5.5%)
  • Access to places and vehicles – 20 (4.2%)