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Disability Discrimination Act at Work

It is important for all people to understand their rights and responsibilities at work. This is no different for people with disability. People with disability have certain additional rights in the workplace, which are outlined by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA).

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992 protects people with disability from discriminatory treatment in a range of areas including employment, education and access to services, facilities and public areas. The Act makes disability discrimination unlawful and promotes equal rights, equal opportunity and equal access for people with disabilities. 

In relation to work, the DDA covers all areas of employment and makes it unlawful for a person to be discriminated against because of their disability. Areas covered include:

  • recruitment (for example advertising, providing information about jobs, application forms, interview arrangements, selection tests or examinations)
  • staff selection
  • conditions of employment (for example salary, duties, leave entitlements, superannuation)
  • opportunities for training and promotion
  • dismissal
  • trade or professional registration
  • membership of unions or professional associations.

Employees with disability (including applicants) are protected against being excluded from employment which they have the ability to perform safely. The law also gives the right to an employee with disability to have reasonable changes called 'workplace adjustments' made to the way they work and/or the workplace. These changes are to allow them to perform their core duties, called 'inherent requirements', and to do so safely.

An employer must by law offer and implement any reasonable workplace changes needed by a worker with disability that allows them to perform the core functions, or 'inherent requirements', of a job safely, participate in the workplace, and have equal access to opportunities for professional development, promotions and working conditions. If an employer declines to make workplace adjustments they must be able to show 'unjustifiable hardship' which means an impossible disadvantage to the employer financially, in workplace relations, and/or core functions of the business.

What is discrimination under the DDA?

Discrimination under the DDA means that a person with disability is treated less fairly than a person without disability.  Disability discrimination also occurs when people are treated less fairly because they are relatives, friends, carers, co-workers or associates of a person with disability. There are three types of unlawful disability discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination occurs when a person with disability is treated less favourably than a person without a disability.
  • Indirect discrimination happens where the same treatment applies to all people but the impact is to disadvantage or exclude people with disability in a way which is not reasonable.
  • Harassment can take many forms, it is unwelcome and undesirable behaviour that a reasonable person would find offensive, humiliating or intimidating.

What if I think I am being discriminated against?

If problems arise in the workplace, you should consider if what you are experiencing fits the DDA's definition of discrimination. Keep in mind that not all unfair treatment is discrimination.

There are lots of options to consider if you think you are experiencing discrimination in employment. Depending on your circumstances you:

  • should discuss the concerns you have with your employer, this can often help to clear up any misunderstandings and may provide solutions to the situation
  • may choose to have a friend, family or advocate assist you to talk to your employer about your situation. Often in larger organisations there is a disability office, they will be able to assist and advise you. If you are getting assistance from a Government employment service you can ask them to help you in resolving the situation
  • should investigate the options and procedures your employer or potential employer has in relation to grievances and complaints, and find out the correct person to speak to about your concerns
  • can consider contacting The Australian Human Rights Commission or the NSW Anti-discrimination Board to discuss the situation or make a complaint

Useful websites

National Disability Coordination Officer Program LogoWestern Sydney University