Request for part-time hours triggers discrimination complaint

Cases

Request for part-time hours triggers discrimination complaint

An employee who suffered from mental health issues was not discriminated against when her employer refused her request to return to work part-time.

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When the employee of a youth charity felt she was unable to work full-time due to a stress disorder, she asked her employer if she could work part-time, despite the fact it was December, the charity’s busiest month.

The employer’s industrial relations advisor told her the organisation could not accommodate her request during their peak workload period, but that her request would be reviewed the following month.

The worker, who had been on sick leave, was advised to remain away from the workplace until further details regarding her capacity for work were received from her psychologist, but the staff member later complained to Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Commission alleging that during this period she had been directly and indirectly discriminated against by the industrial relations advisor, and that the charity was vicariously liable for the advisor’s actions.

The complaint


The woman claimed she was unable to work full-time because she had developed anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of an abusive relationship in her private life. She complained of symptoms including depression, loss of appetite and loss of the use of her arms and legs resulting in an inability to walk.

However, she did not provide evidence that satisfied the commission she had an ‘impairment’ in the meaning of the relevant legislation, which defines the term to mean a condition, illness or disease that impairs a person's thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour.

Her assertions regarding her employer’s alleged discriminatory treatment were also problematic.

Though her ‘statement of facts and contentions’ outlined no fewer than nine allegations of direct discrimination, one allegation of indirect discrimination, one allegation of asking an unnecessary question and one allegation of victimisation, by the end of the hearing it had become apparent that some of the allegations she made were not supported by the evidence and were abandoned.

Findings


The commission rejected her claims, finding that she had failed to establish she had an ‘impairment’, or that she suffered either direct or indirect discrimination.

In the stated reasons for its decision, the commission noted that the woman had often struggled to meet the demands of her role and her employment, taking more than 900 hours of leave over a two-year period and failing to successfully complete two return to work programs in 2016.

The commission found that her employer and its industrial relations advisor had acted reasonably, and dismissed the complaint.

Employers’ obligations


Anti-discrimination laws aim to promote equality of opportunity for everyone by protecting them from unfair discrimination in certain areas of activity including the workplace. It is unlawful to discriminate in the workplace, whether directly or indirectly, on the basis of certain attributes, such as a person's ‘impairment’.

Read the judgment


Curran v yourtown & Anor [2019] QIRC 059 (23 April 2019)
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