What Is Disability Discrimination In The Workplace?

Speak to a Specialist HR Consultant

Fill out the form below and we will call you back to organise a meeting with one of our HR Specialists.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Home > Blog > What Is Disability Discrimination In The Workplace?

In Australia, it is illegal to discriminate against a person in the workplace based on that person’s disability, either directly or indirectly. Stages of employment at which a person may experience disability discrimination in the workplace include while they are trying to get a job, when they have secured a job and are seeking adjustments, during onboarding or training, when seeking a promotion or professional development, and at the termination of the employment.

The law follows a broad definition of disability that includes physical, intellectual, neurological, psychiatric, sensory, and learning disabilities (including those that are previous and no longer exist) and also covers physical disfigurement and the presence of disease-causing organisms, like HIV.

How might someone be discriminated against in the workplace based on their disability?

Discrimination can take many forms and may be experienced by a person with a disability during day-to-day work if they are not provided with tasks or projects their employer deems beyond their capacity or by the omission of professional development and promotion opportunities. It is also discrimination to refuse reasonable adjustments so that a person with a disability can complete their job, as is terminating a person’s employment because of something related to their disability.

What is the difference between direct and indirect discrimination in the workplace?

Direct discrimination is when a person with a disability is treated in a way that is less favourable than they would have been treated if they did not have a disability. Examples include terminating someone’s employment due to their disability or not hiring someone qualified, simply because they have a disability.

Indirect discrimination is when, despite the employee’s disability, their employer requires them to comply with a requirement that they are unable to comply with due to their disability or where they would be at a disadvantage because of their disability. An example of this is when a workplace only has stairs at its entrance and the facility is therefore not equipped for wheelchair users.

Reasonable Adjustments

In Australia, employees have the right to request reasonable adjustments to help them complete their job. A person with a disability may or may not require adjustments, but if an employer is asked to make a reasonable adjustment and they fail or otherwise refuse to comply then it may be deemed discrimination.

Examples of reasonable adjustments include ergonomic chairs and standup desks for people with back, hip or leg pain or a screen reader for people with vision impairments. Not all adjustments cost money, though, and it may be as simple as allowing a person with sensory processing concerns to keep an overhead light switched off in order to darken their workspace.

Are there any exceptions to disability discrimination in the workplace?

Under specific circumstances, two exceptions exist to the aforementioned prohibited discriminatory behaviour.

The first exception is when the job has inherent requirements which mean they cannot be performed by people with specific disabilities. For example, if a person must climb a ladder as part of their regular duties, then not hiring a wheelchair user for the position would not be discrimination. However, if the person’s disability would not impair their ability to do the job then you cannot discriminate against them. For example, if that same wheelchair user applied for a job working on a telephone customer service line the inherent requirements exception would not apply.

The second exception deals with cases where, to accommodate a person with a disability, the alterations the workplace would need to undertake could only be done at great expense or difficulty. To rely on the exception, an employer would need to prove that changes to the workplace required by a person with a disability would cause significant hardship.

What should I do if I am discriminated against in the workplace due to my disability?

If you believe you have been unlawfully discriminated against at work based on your disability, you can lodge a written complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission. The Queensland Human Rights Commission will investigate the complaint and may attempt to seek a resolution through conciliation. If a resolution cannot be resolved by these means then the matter is referred to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.