Wagga accountancy firm discriminated against employee over mental disability

9 November 2012

An accountancy firm at Wagga in the NSW Riverina region discriminated against a long-term employee on the grounds of a mental disability, the Fair Work Ombudsman has found.

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

As part of an Enforceable Undertaking signed with the Fair Work Ombudsman as an alternative to litigation, Bush and Campbell will also spend $6000 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.

And the company must write to the affected employee expressing its “sincere regret and apology” for its actions and place notices at both its Blake Street premises and in the Daily Advertiser giving a commitment that such conduct will not occur again.

In its letter of apology to the former employee, who worked for the accountancy firm for more than 10 years preparing and producing income tax returns and financial statements, Bush and Campbell admits it treated the woman “unfairly” after she advised her employer that she had been diagnosed with depression.

The company admits 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.

The Enforceable Undertaking, been signed by Bush and Campbell’s secretary/director Ms Janice Kay Maxwell, director Stephen James Taylor and Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson, is available at www.fairwork.gov.au.

Mr Wilson says every employee is entitled to a workplace free of unlawful discrimination.
And he 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.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has had the powers to investigate complaints or allegations of discrimination in the workplace since July, 2009.

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.

Mr Wilson says the best advice he can give to 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.”

Mr Wilson says that there is never just one way to achieve compliance with workplace laws, and education and positive motivators are extremely important.

“Enforceable Undertakings are a forward-thinking alternative to litigation and result in strong outcomes without civil court proceedings,” he said.

“They work by companies signing up to undertakings that may include back-paying past and present workers, public apologies, donations to not-for-profit organisations and workplace training.

“They are an important part of our Agency’s commitment to drive future compliance and help us remain confident we are upholding the provisions of the Fair Work Act.”

The Bush and Campbell EU is the 33rd since July, 2009, bringing the amount of money recovered to more than $5.4 million for more than 6900 employees.

Seven signatories to EUs have donated a total of $490,750 to not-for-profit organisations to improve awareness of workplace rights.

Follow the Fair Work Ombudsman on Twitter @fairwork_gov_au external-icon.png or find us on Facebook external-icon.png. Employers can also sign up for a regular eNewsletter.

Workers or employers seeking support should get in touch with the Fair Work Ombudsman via the website www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

Enforceable Undertaking Bush & Campbell (PDF 843.6KB)

Media inquiries:

Ryan Pedler, Assistant Director, Media & Stakeholder Relations
(03) 9954 2561, 0411 430 902
ryan.pedler@fwo.gov.au

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