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Employment terms

Disability Royal Commission hearings sometimes use terms that most Australians aren’t very familiar with. We’re keeping a list of these and trying to explain them in plain language. Please feel free to email us at comms@pwd.org.au if you have suggestions for words that should be included. The terms on this page are likely to come up in hearings about employment. For more employment terms, check out the dictionary on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.


Fair Work: The Fair Work Act 2009 is the main Australian law about your rights at work. It covers the basic employment conditions every Australian worker should expect, like minimum wage and anti-discrimination rules. Find out more in this Fair Work Ombudsman factsheet. ‘Fair Work’ is also used as shorthand for either Australia’s whole national workplace relations system, the Fair Work Commission or the Fair Work Ombudsman. The Fair Work Ombudsman website has a run-down of the difference between them and the Fair Work Commission.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) is a law against treating people unfairly or unequally because of their disability. It applies to employment as well as other areas like education, housing, and accessing public places.

Indirect discrimination: When an employer has a double standard or treats workers with disability differently from other workers, that’s called direct discrimination. When they treat everyone the same in a way that creates a barrier for people with disability, it’s indirect discrimination.

For example:

  • If your boss organises a team bonding event and doesn’t invite any of the people with disability on the team, that’s direct
  • If your boss organises a team bonding event and invites everyone, but the event turns out to be a game of laser tag that isn’t accessible for team members with vision or mobility impairments, that’s indirect

Both kinds of discrimination are against the law. The Australian Human Rights Commission judges discrimination complaints.

Reasonable adjustments: Also known as a workplace modification. Most workplaces are set up with tools and systems that suit people without disability – for example, signs and documents written in font sizes that are easy for someone without a vision impairment to read. Adding Braille or larger text is an example of a reasonable adjustment for someone with a vision impairment. These changes are not hard to make, and they let people with disability work on an equal basis with everyone else. If your employer refuses to make reasonable adjustments for you, that is a type of indirect discrimination (see above). You can ask for a free assessment from the JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund if you’re not sure what kind of adjustments would work best for your job.

Job customisation: Sometimes, instead of providing tools a particular person with disability can use to do a task, it makes more sense for an employer to swap tasks between two or more staff so that the disabled person can focus on their strengths instead of putting a lot of effort into something another person could do more easily. This can be done for tasks that are not an inherent requirement of the job that the person with disability is doing or applying for (see below). Job customisation is not as common as reasonable adjustments, especially for a new hire, but does happen informally for both disabled and abled people when a new role is created for a current staff member to move into.

Unjustifiable hardship: If an employer doesn’t want to make a reasonable adjustment, it’s up to them to prove that the adjustment would be an unjustifiable hardship for them. That means convincing the Australian Human Rights Commission that providing the adjustment would be too difficult or expensive. It’s also your employer’s job to talk to you and try to find other options that let you work like anyone else before they give up and claim unjustifiable hardship.

Inherent requirements: The tasks or skills that are essential for doing a particular job. They are a major part of the job that another worker can’t do instead. It’s not discrimination for an employer not to hire you if you genuinely can’t do those tasks or learn those skills – but it is discrimination if you could do the tasks or learn the skills with a reasonable adjustment (see above). And it is discrimination if they don’t hire you because you can’t do something that isn’t an inherent requirement.

For example:

  • At a manual supermarket checkout, an inherent requirement may be the ability to physically pick up items and scan their barcodes. The ability to stand for a long time while you do so is not an inherent requirement – the job gets done equally well from an appropriate seat. It is the employer’s job to provide equipment like barcode scanners and appropriate seats.
  • An inherent requirement of working as a lawyer is understanding the legal system. The ability to see a printed contract is not an inherent requirement – a lawyer who reads in Braille would do the job just as well. The employer provides print resources to other staff and can provide Braille resources to blind staff.

Workplace regulators: Organisations that are officially responsible for making sure all employers are following the rules, including Fair Work (see above) and workplace health and safety laws. Some laws have a national regulator, while others have a different one in each state or territory.

Open employment: Jobs that are open to everyone, with or without disability. Open employment is the opposite of segregated employment – see ADEs below. Find out more from the Everyone Can Work campaign.

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