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Can I be refused a job if I don’t speak a language?

26 May 2017

Hi Harry, I really need to find work to pay the bills and look after my family. I went for a job at a Vietnamese restaurant and they told me that I was perfect for the job but wasn’t going to be hired because I can’t speak Vietnamese. Can they do that?

Hi James,

Thank you for your question and bad luck on missing out on the job! Whilst it may seem unfair, the brief answer to your question is that yes they can. A Vietnamese, Turkish Mongolian or any other ethnic or culturally aligned Restaurant/Café can limit the offer of employment to a particular race if by the hiring of that race it adds to the entertainment or authenticity of the experience.

The decision that directly impacted you is supported by Section 26/Part 3 of the Equal Opportunity Act which makes general reference to the exception clause in the act that does not make this decision unlawful, bugger!

To help you get a clearer understanding, the same exceptions will also apply to other businesses with genuine operational requirements for the purpose of dramatic or an artistic performance, entertainment, photographic or modeling and can not only apply to race, but age and gender as well. As an example most people would not think it unfair to hire women only to model women’s clothing or act as a receptionist in a women’s only gym. Or in your case it does not seem unreasonable that patrons expecting a truly authentic Vietnamese dining experience be served by Vietnamese waiters.

If you wish to research this further and I do encourage that you do, the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 which is overseen by The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission provides the law or framework that protects all citizens against discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in many areas of public life, such as employment, education, accommodation, and providing goods and services.

Please click on the link below if you have any further questions, or feel free to make direct contact with me at and I will do my best to help.


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