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Managing cultural differences

Most Australian businesses today employ people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

You are responsible for taking care of your staff's physical and psychological well-being in the workplace, and you can encourage acceptance and respect of cultural differences.

Some staff may have specific cultural needs or requirements.

  • Dress - Some cultures wear specific clothing such as headscarves or turbans at all times.
  • Religious practices - Some religions require time during work each day for prayer or time off for special religious days.
  • Customs - Some cultures can or can't have specific foods and drinks or have rules about how food is prepared.
  • Social values - Ideas about appropriate social and sexual behaviour, work ethics, wealth and personal growth vary between cultures.
  • Family obligations - Some cultures have high family priorities which may sometimes conflict with work.
  • Non-verbal behaviour - Eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures and how people interpret them, vary between cultures.

 What can employers do?

You can be culturally sensitive by:

  • training your staff
  • making use of cultural skills
  • promoting cultural celebrations
  • being flexible
  • not discriminating against staff because of their or your own cultural background.

Consider possible cultural differences if problems or misunderstandings happen in the workplace.

Treating people unfairly at work because of their cultural differences may be unlawful.

In particular, it is discrimination to treat a person unfavourably because they wear religious dress at work. However, if the religious dress poses a genuine safety hazard, you can require that it not be worn. Also, if religious dress covers a worker’s face, you can ask that they show their face for reasonable identification purposes.

You are also liable if your staff discriminate against each other because of cultural differences and you may both be held responsible.

Related information
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