Handling complaints

Nature of complaints

If a person alleges they have been discriminated against on one or more of the 16 grounds and in one or more of the relevant areas under the Act, then those allegations need to be accepted by the Commissioner as a complaint, irrespective of how much supporting information is provided. Some grounds do not apply in some areas, therefore allegations with a ground but without an appropriate area, cannot be accepted.

In addition to the grounds under the Act and the unlawful act of victimisation, there are two other grounds of unlawful discrimination arising from other WA Acts, which confer jurisdiction to the Commissioner to investigate, conciliate or refer to the State Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) for determination:

i)     Victimisation for making a disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003

ii)    Discrimination on the ground of a spent conviction in employment related areas under the Spent Convictions Act 1988.

Before the matter can progress however the complainant needs to provide a minimum level of substance to the allegation.

Once the Commissioner is satisfied there is  sufficient substance, the allegation is put to the respondent/s who will be requested to provide a response. If deemed appropriate a conciliation conference will be held.

Should the Commissioner, after investigating, determine the complaint is to be dismissed under section 89 of the Act as lacking in substance, vexatious, frivolous or misconceived, then the complainant has the right to have the matter referred to the 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 matter in order for it to become a complaint.

Numbers of complaints

In 2018-19 the Commission received 475 new complaints. This is marginally higher than the 472 complaints received in 2017-18.  When looked at over a 30-year period, the number of complaints received has risen and fallen over time with lowest annual number of lodged complaints being 240 received in 1987- 88 and the highest being 795 in 2011-12.

These fluctuations reflect factors including the economic cycle, and in some years, such as 2011 to 2013, a result of increased activity by some advocacy agencies. Over this period there have been different methodologies in accepting complaints, which also impacts on numbers.

Of the various grounds under the Act, complaints of impairment discrimination have consistently been the highest for many years, followed by race.  This year 22.5% of complaints lodged related to impairment, race complaints were second (18.1%), and sexual harassment (12.8%) 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 and in 2018-19 a total of 65.3% of all complaints related to work

In the Act, ‘Work’ includes seven categories with employment (employees and applicants) being the most significant category. 

The six highest grounds on which complaints are lodged in the area of work. Hereafter references and examples used are to the category of employment.  

Impairment related employment complaints were lodged by people applying for jobs, but primarily from people already in employment. These included people with physical, mental, sensory or other impairments, as well as complainants with an injury.

Lodgement of complaints

The Act requires complaints to be in writing, and written complaints can be lodged by email, fax, in person, by post or via the website.  Complainants who have difficulty writing may be 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 85.7% submitted online this year, compared to 79.4% in 2017-18 and 74.9% in 2016-17.

The number of hard copy complaints arriving by mail has declined with 9.5% submitted this year, compared to 14% in 2017-18 and 17.4% in 2016-17.

As in past years, most complainants (73.3%) are not represented. Figure 10 shows the breakdown of complainants who are represented.


The Commission primarily receives complaints from individuals, and occasionally from groups who allege unlawful discrimination has occurred in Western Australia according to the grounds and areas of the Act.

This section looks at the demographic 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.

Fig 8

Fig 9

Fig 10