Practice fined $17k for discrimination

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The accountancy arm of a financial services practice has been found guilty of discriminating against an employee with a mental disability.

Bush and Campbell Pty Ltd, which offers accountancy and financial planning services, has agreed to pay $17,805 to a former long-serving employee for loss of wages and compensation for the “stress, hurt, humiliation, embarrassment and injury to feelings” she suffered as a result of the discrimination.

Bush and Campbell admitted it treated the employee “unfairly” after she advised her employer that she had been diagnosed with depression.

In its letter of apology to the former employee, who worked for the firm for more than 10 years preparing and producing income tax returns and financial statements, the company admitted it contravened workplace laws when it:

  • Dismissed the employee in May, 2010 because of her mental disability and her workplace right to have reasonable adjustments made to accommodate her disability;
  • injured the employee by refusing her earlier request for a support person in performance reviews and other meetings; and
  • discriminated against her and other employees, in particular by excluding her from attending training sessions because of her mental disability and workplace right.

As a result of signing an enforceable undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman as an alternative to litigation, Bush and Campbell will also spend $6,000 over the next two years on workplace relations advice and training for its directors and business manager to ensure they understand the rights and responsibilities of employers under the Fair Work Act – specifically in relation to discrimination and termination of employment.

Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson commented that every employee is entitled to a workplace free of unlawful discrimination, and issued a reminder to employers that everyone has the right of complaint in the workforce, and there are strong protections provided for people who do complain.

“Allegations made to the Fair Work Ombudsman about discrimination in the workplace are concerning and where they fall within our jurisdiction, we will investigate them, and where appropriate, we will take action,” he said.

Wilson added the best advice he can give to practice owners and managers is to do unto others as you would have them do to you.

“As we age, our demographics change and Australia’s workplaces become increasingly diverse, there can be no place for telling people they have to go because they are pregnant or because they are perceived as past retirement age or because their language or religion doesn’t fit with yours … and there can be no place for tolerance of sexual or other harassment.”

He added there is never just one way to achieve compliance with workplace laws, and education and positive motivators are extremely important.

Fair Work inspectors can investigate allegations of discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer responsibilities, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

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