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Cultural differences in the workplace

Most Australian workplaces today employ people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Some workers may have specific cultural needs or requirements which should be taken into account.

  • Dress - Some cultures have specific clothing such as headscarves or turbans that are worn 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 may 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.

Employers are responsible for their workers' physical and psychological health and well-being and should encourage tolerance and respect for cultural differences in the workplace.

Religious dress

You are entitled to wear your religious dress at work, unless it creates a safety hazard. If you religious dress covers your face, you can be asked to show your face for reasonable identification purposes.

What your employer can do

Employers can:

  • train staff
  • make use of staff cultural skills
  • promote cultural celebrations
  • be flexible
  • not discriminate against workers because of the employer's own cultural background.

Workers and employers should also consider cultural differences as possible reasons for problems or misunderstandings in the workplace.

Treating people unfairly at work because of their cultural difference may be unlawful under equal opportunity laws. If you think you have been discriminated against because of your culture, contact us for advice.

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