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Disability discrimination

It’s against the law to discriminate against you, by treating you unfairly or bullying you, because of a disability. There are many types of disability, including physical impairment, mental health disorders and learning difficulties. It’s also against the law to discriminate against you because of your disability equipment or assistance dog.

What is disability discrimination?

Disability discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly or bullies you because of your disability.

Under Victorian law a disability is defined as:

  • the total or partial loss of a body part or a body function (such as mobility, sight or hearing)
  • disfigurement
  • mental health disorders
  • learning difficulties.

The law protects people who have a disability now or had one in the past. This includes people who have previously had major health issues, including depression and anxiety. It also protects people who may have a disability in the future because of an existing medical condition such as Multiple Sclerosis, HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C.

It’s also against the law to discriminate against you because you have:

  • an assistance aid, such as a wheelchair, walking frame or oxygen tank
  • someone who is assisting you, for example, a carer or reader
  • an assistance dog, such as a trained guide dog, hearing dog, mobility assistance dogs, medical alert dogs or psychiatric service dog.

Examples of disability discrimination

  • A school policy not allowing students with disabilities to go on excursions.
  • A shop only accepting a driver’s licence as ID.
  • A gardening business dismissing a staff member who broke his arm while on leave.
  • Insurance policies that have a blanket ban on mental health conditions.

How does the law protect me?

Discrimination is against the law if it happens in an area of public life such as at work, school or university, in a club or sporting organisation, or shops and restaurants.

People who work in these areas have a positive duty to make sure you don’t face discrimination because of a disability. For example:

  • employers need to make sure you can safely do the work that your job requires
  • schools and other education providers need to make sure you can take part in education programs
  • shops and restaurants need to make sure you can access their services.

It is also against the law to victimise a person, which means treat them badly or unfairly, because they have made a complaint about discrimination, sexual harassment or vilification, or have helped someone else to make a complaint.

You can make a complaint

Get help from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

You can make a complaint to us if you think you have experienced:

If you wish, someone else can make a complaint for you.

Find out how the Commission helps people resolve complaints.

We can also give you information about your rights.

What are adjustments for disability?

The law requires people to make adjustments to help support and include people with disabilities, where reasonable. For example:

  • wheelchair ramps at schools
  • accessible bathrooms in office buildings
  • hearing loops in banks.

The law allows for consideration of expense and effort. If complying with the law requires a large cost or disruption, the employer, school or business may be exempt.

Disability discrimination at work

Over a third of complaints that come to us about disability discrimination are work related (34.6 per cent in 2018-19).

While a person is responsible for their own unlawful behaviour, employers can also be held responsible.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, employers have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

Victoria is unique in having a positive duty, which creates an opportunity to prevent unlawful behaviour. It helps organisations put a healthy workplace culture in place, just as occupational health and safety laws require employers to take appropriate steps to ensure injuries don’t occur.

Organisations must also put measures in place to ensure that complaints are responded to swiftly and appropriately when they do arise.

The positive duty applies to employers of all sizes, regardless of whether they are a major company or a small cafe, and covers all types of workers:

  • full-time, part-time and casual employees
  • agents and contract workers
  • trainees and apprentices.

It applies to all stages of employment, including:

See our page on disability and the workplace for information on whether you need to tell your employer about your disability, and how your employer can help you do your work safely.

Examples of disability discrimination in the workplace

  • Not considering a job applicant who uses a mobility scooter.
  • Dismissing an employee after finding out that she claimed workers’ compensation in her last role.
  • Not allowing a staff member to bring their assistance dog to work.
  • Bullying a staff member with an intellectual disability
  • Not reasonably considering or providing alternative or light duties to an injured employee, whether or not their injury occurred in the workplace.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that mean it’s not against the law to discriminate in particular circumstances. For example, discrimination is not against the law if there is a real risk to someone’s health, safety or property.

Find out more about exceptions.

My human rights under the Charter

Every Victorian has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination, and to enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities contains 20 basic rights that promote and protect the values of freedom, respect, equality, and dignity.

The Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities must always consider these rights when they create laws, develop policies and deliver their services.

Find out more about your human rights under the Charter and what to do if you think they have been breached.

Related resources

Beyond doubt: the experiences of people with disabilities reporting crime – Jul 2014