By Emilia Palka

  • If a worker asks me to adjust their role to accommodate their disability, do I have to say yes?
  • And if I don’t approve adjustments to a worker’s role, is it discrimination?

Employee disability, whether temporary or long-term, mental or physical, is a common factor most workplaces, if not all at some point in time, will be required to address. In fact, almost one in six Australians – approximately 4.4 million people – have a disability. More than half of those individuals are active in the labour force. Although, recent decades have seen major improvements made, disability discrimination is a complex and evolving area of law that is fraught with risk for employers

It’s an area which HR Assured frequently updates Australian businesses on, considering the significant penalties which may result if discrimination occurs in a workplace, whether intentionally or by neglect.

Your obligation to make reasonable adjustments

Under Australia’s strong workplace anti-discrimination legislation, you are required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate workers with a disability. In the vast majority of cases, small changes in the workplace will enable a worker with a disability to effectively perform their role.

A failure to make reasonable adjustments will constitute disability discrimination and may expose you to significant liability.

So what is a reasonable adjustment to a worker’s role?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to reasonable adjustments. An employer’s requirement to make reasonable adjustments will depend upon each individual’s circumstance and the nature of the disability. For example, reasonable adjustments will differ depending on whether the employee is suffering from a mental or physical disability, however, examples may include:

  • Providing flexible working arrangements.
  • Adjusting the environment of the workspace (if possible).
  • Providing access to professional mentoring, coaching or on-the-job training.
  • Changing how information is communicated in the workplace.
  • Adapting performance and development programs to meet individual needs.

When may you decline to make an adjustment?

While you’re obliged to make reasonable adjustments, you’re not required to make any adjustment that would impose unjustifiable hardship on you. You may therefore lawfully decline to make requested adjustments where:

  • The adjustments needed are not in fact reasonable (with reference to relevant circumstances); or
  • The person with the disability could not perform the inherent requirements of the job even if the adjustments were made.

Whether an adjustment would in fact impose unjustifiable hardship will ultimately depend on the circumstances of the particular case including:

  • The nature of the benefit or detriment likely to accrue to, or to be suffered by, any person concerned;
  • The effect of the disability on any person concerned; and
  • Your financial circumstances, including the estimated amount of expenditure required to be made and whether there is any financial or other assistance available to you.

To help you find a way through complicated questions about reasonable and unreasonable adjustments to roles, HR Assured offers this guide on how to prevent discrimination in the workplace. We’re just a phone call away for any further questions.

HR Assured have a team of workplace relations experts with considerable experience in balancing your obligations to accommodate workers with a disability with the operational needs of your business. 

If this article has raised any questions for you about WHS obligations or compliance, or to check whether your workplace is facilitating access for people with disabilities, please reach out to our workplace relations experts via our 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service.

Not an HR Assured client? If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client, contact us today for an informal chat.

Emilia Palka is a Workplace Relations Adviser who is currently studying for a Bachelor of Laws/Arts (Honours) at the University of Queensland. Working from HR Assured’s Brisbane office, Emilia is passionate about human rights and diplomacy, which together, drive her eagerness to ensure that employment settings are thriving.