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General protections – protected attributes and activities

Last updated January 2024

This chapter explains the general protections provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), how your workforce is protected under these provisions and what happens if you breach them.

What are general protections?

General protections are provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) that protect members of the workforce from having adverse action taken against them for an unlawful reason.

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 taken against a worker will be unlawful and breach the general protections provisions if it is taken because the person possesses a protected attribute or is engaging in a protected activity.

Important: The attribute or activity does not have to be the sole reason for the adverse action but it must be a substantial and operative factor in the decision to take the adverse action.

See the chapter General protections – adverse action for more information about adverse action.

The FW Act general protections provisions apply to most employers and employees in Australia. They will most likely apply to you if you are a:

  • constitutionally covered entity; or
  • national system employer.

Protected attributes and activities

Protected attributes and activities fall within the following main areas:

  • workplace rights;
  • industrial activity;
  • industrial arrangements; and
  • unlawful discrimination.