Education to Employment Education to Employment

Section 5: What are the key disability legal rights and obligations in graduate employment?

This section gives a brief summary of the key disability-related legislative rights and obligations relevant to graduate employers and graduates with disability. Being aware of the broad disability-related legal rights and responsibilities in this area will help you to better understand:

  • what to expect from employers; and
  • the considerations that graduates with disability will need to take into account when planning their move from adult-education into employment.

The information we have provided is not intended as legal advice and does not cover all relevant employer responsibilities in each of the legislative areas. We recommend that readers needing further information refer to the other sources provided for more details.

Relevant Federal & State Legislation  
Disability discrimination legislation & standards
Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act (1992)
NSW Anti-Discrimination Act (1977)

Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination legislation means that all Australians with disability are protected against being treated less fairly than people without a disability. Essentially the anti-discrimination legislation gives the right for the person with disability to be treated the same as others and be given the opportunity to participate fully in Australian life, including having adjustments and provisions made that allow them to participate fully.

All employers are legally obliged to actively prevent disability discrimination in their workplace, including in the areas of recruitment, work conditions and salary, promotion, training and development, disciplinary action and termination.

Key employer responsibilities in brief

  • Prevent disability harassment within the workplace.
  • Ask universally and on an individual basis whether job applicants and employees need any disability-related workplace adjustments.
  • Make 'workplace adjustments' to usual processes, environment and practices that allow employees with disability to effectively do their work and participate in the workplace (see information sheet #7 on workplace adjustments).
  • Make reasonable workplace adjustments in a timely way and in consultation with the employee with disability.
  • Only decline making workplace adjustments when the adjustments are unreasonable and cause 'unjustifiable hardship' (see information sheet #7 on workplace adjustments for explanation of 'unjustifiable hardship').
  • Use the measure of 'inherent requirements' (core duties that must be carried out to fulfil the purpose of a position) only to determine whether a person could do the job/participate in a development program, course or training/be appointed to a promotion (see information sheet #6 on inherent requirements for explanation of this term).
  • Avoid excluding, discontinuing or dismissing on the grounds of having a disability alone.

Where to get more information

The Australian Human Rights Commission has an informative frequently asked questions webpage on disability rights, including specific information about disability discrimination legislation and practice in education and employment. The Commission is also available to answer general enquiries via phone about disability discrimination legislation and complaints processes.

The Australian Centre for Disability Law is a service for people with disability and their associates wanting to make use of the anti-disability discrimination legislation.

Relevant Federal & State Legislation  
Privacy & confidentiality legislation & principles
NSW Privacy & Personal Info Protection Act (1998)
Federal Privacy Act (1988)

Privacy Legislation

Privacy legislation requires Australian employers to treat personal information in the workplace respectfully, sensitively and confidentially. This means keeping information about a person's disability private and only collecting or sharing personal information when necessary and with the consent of the employee.

Key employer responsibilities in brief

  • Treat all information about a person's disability in the workplace (including any workplace adjustments) as private and confidential information.
  • Collect and share only information relevant to the particular situation.
  • Tell people with disability about the workplace's policies on handling personal information and what will be done with the information collected.
  • Share information only with consent from the person with disability.
  • Share information about disability with others only on a 'needs to know basis'.

Where to get more information

Office of the Privacy Commissioner website has useful information about the state privacy legislation. You can also phone the Privacy Commissioner with general enquiries about privacy practices, although they are unable to give legal advice.

Choosing Your Path: Disclosure: It's a Personal Decision is a website developed by our program for people with disabilities, educators and employers about disability disclosure.

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) in the United States has produced a great resource for young people with disability about disability disclosure. 'The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities'  is designed to help young people make informed decisions about whether or not to disclose their disability and understand how that decision may impact their education, employment, and social lives. It can be downloaded at this website:

Relevant Federal & State Legislation  
Worker health and safety legislation & regulations
Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act (2011)
NSW Work Health and Safety Act (2011)

Work health and safety legislation

Work Health & Safety (WH&S) legislation means that all Australian employers are obliged to take active steps to prevent illness or injury and ensure that their workplace is safe and healthy.  The employer is legally required to identify, assess and actively manage risks and potential risks to the health and safety of employees and all others in the workplace.

Key employer responsibilities in brief

  • Take active steps to identify risks and potential risks to health or safety within the workplace.
  • Take action to minimise actual or likely risks.
  • Act on reports or indicators of workplace risks or potential risks by examining the situation and if necessary, implementing changes to address the risk or potential risk.
  • Avoid acting on perceived risks based on a lack of factual understanding of a person's disability and its affects.
  • Consider every reasonable potential means for an employee with disability to participate safely.
  • Because WH&S legislation does not override disability anti-discrimination responsibilities, employers are required to balance the two sets of legal responsibilities. If an employee is unable to participate safely in the workplace after all reasonable adjustments are taken into account, it is considered that they cannot meet the 'inherent requirements' of the job, placement or program (see above and information sheet #6 on inherent requirements).

Where to get more information

Safe Work NSW provides an Assistance Service. This service provides information and assistance on a range of issues, including workers compensation, injury management and occupational health and safety. The Safe Work website also includes information about the NSW legislation and regulations.