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General protections – adverse action

Last updated June 2021

This chapter explains adverse action, when it is unlawful under the general protections provisions, and how to defend against a general protections claim.

What is adverse action?

Definition: Adverse Action

Adverse action is any conduct that reduces the advantages an employee receives or expects to receive in their employment, such as loss of benefits, change of employment conditions, dismissal and job refusal.

Adverse action can be unlawful under the general protections provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) if it is taken against a protected person for a prohibited reason.

Definition: General Protections Provisions

General protections provisions are provisions in the FW Act that protect employees from having adverse action taken against them for an unlawful reason (i.e. because of a protected attribute or activity), including adverse action related to workplace rights, freedom of association rights and unlawful discrimination.

Adverse action for a prohibited reason can only contravene the FW Act if it is taken by certain classes of people against certain classes of people.

See the chapter General protections – protected attributes and activities to find out who protected people are.

The following types of person may be liable for unlawful adverse action under the FW Act:

  • an employer;
  • a prospective employer;
  • an employee;
  • a principal or contractor; and
  • an industrial association.

Adverse action by an employer

An employer will take adverse action against an employee if the employer threatens to, organises or takes action by:

  • dismissing the employee;
  • injuring the employee in their employment;
  • altering the position of the employee to the employee’s prejudice; or
  • discriminating between the employee and other employees of the employer.
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