Reducing the risk of discrimination

Analysis

Reducing the risk of discrimination

Are you inadvertently disadvantaging employees and job seekers because of their disability, age or other aspects of who they are? You may need to amend your policies and practices.

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There’s disagreement about who first said ‘A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members’. But there’s no dispute about the truth of the idea behind the famous quote: that you can rate a civilisation, country or society by how well the most disadvantaged are treated. In Australia, many people take pride in the fact that it’s unlawful to disadvantage employees and job seekers in any way because of their disability, age, race, religion, gender, or a range of other characteristics.

With public scrutiny focused on disabled people’s experience of unequal opportunities, employers would do well to take a fresh look at their own policies and practices, especially regarding recruitment and promotion. Are they inadvertently disadvantaging employees and job seekers because of their disability, their age or other aspects of who they are? If so, this would be a good time to gear up and rectify any problem areas by amending policies and standard practice.

Employing older and disabled staff: employers’ responsibilities


The essence of legal requirements here is that you make sure the essentials and desirables listed in your selection criteria for a given position are really relevant and important in terms of the needs of the job, and consider what reasonable adjustments you could make to accommodate the needs of an older or disabled person. Equally important is to provide training for your staff and supervision to ensure job seekers are not disadvantaged by stereotyped assumptions about what they can or can’t do, just because they’re disabled or older than most of the other staff.

Hiring a mature-aged worker can bring years of experience and knowledge to your business. Older people reportedly have lower rates of absenteeism and higher levels of productivity. Thanks to their long experience they may also be able to offer insights that help you look at your business operations from a different perspective and suggest improvements to your processes. And they can share their skills with other staff by training and mentoring less skilled workers.

Over the next decade, it’s expected that we’ll see fewer young people entering the workforce and greater numbers of older workers staying in the job market. By welcoming mature-aged workers, your business will be seen as a more attractive employer to a growing proportion of the workforce.

Flexible work arrangements can help mature-aged staff cope with whatever family commitments they may have, for example, with grandchildren or aged parents. Employers may also be able to benefit from a range of tools, programs and financial support options to help businesses employ older workers. See the Australian government’s ‘Grants and assistance programs’ web page.

Hiring a disabled worker


By taking on people facing barriers to employment, employers can diversify the skill set within a business. The advantages of employing people with a disability are that they tend to take fewer days off and less sick leave, and have fewer compensation claims and work accidents. They tend to stay in jobs for longer than other workers, and they may be more affordable, as recruitment costs are often lower. With appropriate training and support, they can also build strong relationships with customers.

Most people with a disability won’t need changes to the workplace, but depending on the type of disability, you may need to make some changes, such as providing accessible car parking and sanitary facilities, eg bathrooms and toilets. For some new buildings, Premises Standards apply, to ensure that people with a disability can use the building in a dignified way.

There are funding and incentive schemes available for businesses that support people with a disability, mature-aged workers and others who are commonly subject to discrimination and exclusion. For more information about schemes for job access, Premises Standards, financial help to buy work-related modifications and services, and subsidising the wages of disabled people, visit the government’s disability support website.

As an employer, you need to understand your rights and responsibilities under human rights and anti-discrimination law. Putting effective anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and procedures in place can help you comply with legal requirements and ensure your workforce includes employees from a wide range of backgrounds.

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