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Disability Discrimination in the Workplace - Managers & Prevention

No one likes to think their workplace discriminates against people with a disability, but it occurs more often than you think. Often does not mean notorious, but when notorious, many may not know how to prevent it.  

What is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination is when a person with a disability is treated unequally or not provided the same opportunities as someone without a disability. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person with a disability, and it doesn't have to be intentional for it to be unlawful. The maximum penalty for breaching the Disability Discrimination Act is imprisonment for 6 months.

The disability can be permanent or temporary. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, a disability includes:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Sensory
  • Neurological
  • Psychosocial
  • Learning
  • Disease or illness
  • Physical disfigurement
  • Medical condition
  • Injury

Different Forms of Disability Discrimination

There are 6 main types of disability discrimination:

Direct discrimination - when an organisation makes an unfavourable decision based on a person’s disability. For example, the most qualified candidate isn’t offered the job because of a disability.  

Indirect discrimination - when a person is placed at a disadvantage due to the organisation’s policy. For example, the need to stand all day when the job can be done seated, just as well.

Failing to make reasonable adjustments - when an organisation doesn’t make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a worker. For example, an organisation should provide visual aid equipment for an employee with a vision impairment.

Discrimination arising from a disability - the discrimination may not be directly linked to the disability, but have a connection. One example is when an employee with a hearing impairment needs a quiet location in the office for the hearing aids to work, and the location gets offered to other employees without a disability.

Harassment - when a person is intimidated, humiliated, or insulted because of their disability. An example would be a colleague joking about a worker with a disability or telling a joke that may humiliate them.

Victimisation - when a person is treated badly because of a complaint they made about discrimination or for supporting someone that raised attention to the situation. For example, when an employer threatens an employee who made a complaint about discrimination in the workplace.

Discrimination Prevention Methods

It’s not enough for an organisation to tell staff not to discriminate against a prospect or employee with a disability. Not everyone knows what discrimination looks like, so the responsibility is on the organisation to ensure everyone is familiar with their obligations. This can be done by:

  • Training all staff on what disability discrimination is and giving examples.
  • Training managers and supervisors on responding to complaints or acts of discrimination.
  • Preparing a policy and making sure it is enforced.
  • Dealing with complaints of discrimination promptly, appropriately, and confidentially.
  • Reviewing the policy regularly to ensure it’s effective.

How to Deal with Staff Discriminatory Behaviours

As a manager or supervisor, you should deal with any staff who engages in discriminatory behaviours.
Staff members should know that disability discrimination in the workplace is not tolerated. If an organisation is unlawful, there are serious reputational and financial risks. Individuals should understand that there are consequences if they discriminate against a candidate or colleague.

  • A staff member may have to repeat discrimination training,
  • Should apologise to the colleague they treated poorly or discriminated against,
  • Have their duties changed so there is less opportunity for them to discriminate against someone, and/or
  • May not be eligible for future promotions.

Building an inclusive and diverse workforce is a great way to improve workplace culture and support people from all walks of life who are keen to contribute to your organisation. Disability Employment Services provide support and improve people's capacity for work by delivering holistic services to employers and people with injuries, health conditions, and/or disabilities. Contact us online or call 1800 258 487 for more information.

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