How Working from Home Led to Disability Discrimination

Tuesday February 8, 2022

Disability does not discriminate, which means that it can happen to anyone at any point in their life. However, disability discrimination still occurs. The current disability employment gap highlights that people with disabilities continue to face disproportionate barriers to employment.

To support employees with disabilities, employers are expected to make reasonable adjustments that remove or reduce the effect of an employee’s disability so that they can do their job. Such adjustments should be positive. However, a recent case has shown that this is not always the case.

IT Manager Mr Lawton worked on the fifth floor of a building and suffered from complex regional pain syndrome. He regularly used crutches around the office to help with his disability. Due to reoccurring issues with the lift, Mr. Lawton asked if he could work from home when the lift was out of order. Communication between Mr Lawton and his employer, Mr Thomas , showed that this was approved in accordance with occupational health, although seemingly begrudgingly and conditionally.

From then on, Mr Lawton reported to being treated differently and unfavourably because of his disability. In one example, he was told he was too slow during a fire drill evacuation. A disciplinary investigation following an incident with the company server resulted in Mr Lawton eventually resigning and taking his employer to The Australian Human Rights Commission. Here, he won for disability discrimination.

Although Mr Lawton’s employer had made the adjustments in compliance with The Disability Discrimination Act (1992), the adjustments had been seen as a burden and the complainant treated unfavourably as a result.

The pandemic has given rise to flexible working requests and this case shows that the process can be a complex one, especially when dealing with disability.

Each request for flexible working must be well considered and on its own merits. If you have questions about the process, the HR Dept is here to help.

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