Employers oppose positive  discrimination on disability

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Employers oppose positive discrimination on disability

A positive duty placed on employers to address barriers to employment for potential employees with a disability is unreasonable, says the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group).

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A positive duty placed on employers to address barriers to employment for potential employees with a disability is unreasonable, says the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group).

The Productivity Commission is currently seeking comment on a possible amendment to the Federal Disability Discrimination Act that compels employers to manage the removal of barriers to employment for people with disabilities.

‘An employer must take reasonable steps to identify, and be prepared to eliminate, barriers which prevent, limit or affect the opportunities of people with disabilities to participate in the same way as others in employment related areas of activity,’ the Productivity Commission's review of the Federal Disability Discrimination Act said.

According to the Commission, reasonable steps include assessing recruitment practices, looking at staff diversity in relation to disability, considering and auditing access to the workplace, and developing voluntary action plans.

In its response to the Productivity Commission review, employer body Ai Group said yesterday: ‘One of the biggest difficulties for employers in addressing barriers to the employment of people with disabilities is the vast array of disabilities which different people may have.  

‘Any "positive duty" which requires employers to identify and be prepared to eliminate barriers which prevent or limit the opportunities for people with disabilities would present employers with the problem of identifying what physical and mental disabilities potential job applicants might have and how these could be addressed.’

Preparing to modify workplaces to accommodate blind employees presented a different set of challenges than preparing to modify for deaf, epileptic or intellectually disabledemployees, the Ai Group said.

Consequently, it was unreasonable to expect employers to prepare a workplace if they didn’t know what disabilities potential employees would present with.

‘It is equally unfair to expect an employer to develop strategies to remove barriers when a person with a disability may never apply for a job with the employer.’

The Ai Group conceded that the productivity Commission proposals only applied to large employers and only required the employer to take ‘reasonable’ steps. 

However, no employer should have to face such provisions and the proposals would cause problems when defending discrimination complaints, the Ai Group said.

‘An employer would face significant hurdles in demonstrating that he or she had taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination occurring.’

Drug discrimination

The Ai Group is also concerned that the Productivity Commission’s proposals are in contrast to proposed Federal Government amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act that are currently before a Senate Committee inquiry (see previous stories: Employers want federal drug discrimination Bill tightened; Federal drug discrimination controversy - legislation to committee).

The Ai Group claimed that while the Federal Government is seeking to allow employers to discriminate against employees who are addicted to prohibited drugs, the Productivity Commission is moving in the opposite direction.

The Ai group is concerned that the Productivity Commission’s proposal to amend the definition of disability in the Disability Discrimination Act to include ‘behaviour that is a symptom or manifestation of a disability’ would prevent employers effectively managing employees affected by prohibited drugs.

‘An employer could be faced with an employee who engages in violent behaviour in the workplace as a result of his or her addiction to an illegal drug, yet the employer would be hamstrung in dealing promptly and effectively with the situation because the behaviour would be recognized as a disability under the DDA’.

To overcome the problem, the Ai Group want the Productivity Commission to recommendthe passing of the Government’s amendments to the Federal Disability Discrimination Bill. 

See: The Productivity Commission’s report.

See related: Practical steps for implementing EEO.

The Ai Group’s report is not on line yet. 

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