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Disability and the workplace

Everyone should feel productive and valuable in the workplace. Workplaces are often not designed to be inclusive to people with disabilities, whether it be the layout of the building or the work hours required. This can sometimes prevent people from performing the requirements of their job. This is against the law. Employers must make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to allow people with disability or injury to work productively and safely. It is up to you whether you tell your employer about your disability, but you may need to do so if it will affect your ability to do your job.

Do I have to disclose my disability to my current or future employer?

You have no legal obligation to tell your employer about your disability.

However, in some situations it may be practical to tell them, for example, if you need changes made to the workplace to help you work safely and productively.

This also applies to when you are applying for jobs. You do not need to mention your disability on your job application or pre-employment forms. It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of a disability.

If a pre-employment form asks for information about disability or illness, you have no legal obligation to disclose and can write ‘not applicable’ for any disability that will not impact on your work performance.

When disability affects your ability to do the job

You should disclose your disability if it directly relates to the genuine requirements of the job.

If an employer does ask you to disclose in writing any pre-existing injury or illness that might be reasonably expected to affect your ability to perform the normal duties of a job, and you don’t disclose, you might miss out on workers’ compensation if your condition recurs or gets worse on the job.

For example, a job that requires the lifting of heavy objects needs workers who are able to lift heavy objects safely and without risk to themselves. In this case, job applicants may have to undergo pre-employment medical tests to ensure they can lift a certain weight safely. This is not discrimination as long as these tests are given to all job applicants and employees, not just to anyone an employer thinks may have a disability or injury. If your disability prevented you from lifting heavy objects safely you would have to disclose this to the employer.

What about my privacy?

If your employer asks for personal information, they must do so in a way that is fair and not intrusive, and:

  • tell you why they are asking for it
  • advise you of any consequences if you don’t provide the information. For example, you might risk missing out on workers’ compensation if you’re injured on the job
  • allow you access to your information
  • tell you who will receive copies of your information and give you their contact details.

What adjustments for disability do employers need to make?

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, employers are required to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments for a person with disability, which includes:

  • physical, psychological or neurological disease or disorder
  • illness, whether temporary or permanent
  • injury, including work-related injuries.

Workplace reasonable adjustments are changes to the work environment or conditions that allow people with disability to work safely and productively.

Who do employers need to make adjustments for?

Employers must make reasonable adjustments for people who are:

  • applying for a job
  • offered employment
  • current employees.

What is a reasonable adjustment?

Reasonable adjustments are changes that must be made if someone needs them to:

  • take part in the recruitment process
  • perform the genuine and reasonable requirements of the job.

Adjustments can vary from minor changes to work hours or the performance requirements of the job, or larger changes that require specific equipment or some structural change to the workplace.

Employers can apply for funding support through the Employment Assistance Fund – an Australian Government fund – to help cover the costs of reasonable adjustments.

Examples of reasonable workplace adjustments

  • reviewing and, if necessary, adjusting the performance requirements of the job
  • arranging flexibility in work hours
  • providing telephone typewriter (TTY) phone access for employees with hearing or speech impairments
  • buying screen reading software for employees with a vision impairment
  • approving more regular breaks for people with chronic pain or fatigue
  • buying desks with adjustable heights for people using a wheelchair.

When is an adjustment not reasonable?

There are no specific rules about what is or isn’t a reasonable adjustment because it depends on the situation. However, an adjustment is likely to be unreasonable if:

  • it has a very high cost
  • it will cause great disruption in the workplace.

In some cases an employer can lawfully decide not to make the requested adjustments, if:

  • the adjustments needed are not considered reasonable in their situation
  • the person with the disability could not perform the genuine and reasonable requirements of the job even if the adjustments were made.

An employer may also be able to show that they are acting in compliance with a Disability Standard under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. If they are doing this, the employer may not have to make other adjustments.

Stories

Jie's story

"I submitted a request for a leave of absence so I could get my anxiety back under control, but my employer refused. They said it was too busy for me to be away and that I’d have to wait until a quieter time."