Employing someone with a disability

Legal obligations and benefits of employing people with disabilities

People with disabilities make up nearly 10 percent of the total Australian workforce. When looking for employees, keep in mind that people with disabilities can bring a range of skills to the workplace.

Advantages of employing people with a disability

People with disabilities work in all industries, in many different roles, and bring a range of skills, qualifications, talents and experience to business. They hold a range of tertiary, trade and other qualifications.

It makes good business sense to employ people with disabilities. Evidence has shown that they tend to:

  • take fewer days off and stay in jobs for longer than other workers
  • take less personal leave
  • be more affordable, as recruitment costs are often lower
  • have fewer compensation incidents and accidents at work in comparison with other employees
  • build strong relationships with customers
  • boost workplace morale and enhance teamwork

Employers’ obligations

Employers have a legal responsibility not to discriminate and to take all reasonable steps to prevent disability discrimination, including in the areas of recruitment; work conditions and salary; promotion; training and development; disciplinary action and termination.

‘Reasonable steps’ may include putting in place policies and procedures to create a discrimination-free environment.

Employers should make ‘workplace adjustments’ to usual processes, the workplace and workplace practises that allow employees with a disability to effectively undertake their work and participate in the workplace. Employers should make reasonable workplace adjustments in a timely way and in consultation with the employee with a disability.

How are employees with a disability paid?

Employees covered by awards

Awards, which set the minimum wages and conditions of most employees in Australia, often include pay rates and conditions for employees with a disability. These are set out in the Supported Wage System section of the award.

Supported Wage System

Supported Wage System (SWS) is a mechanism that allows employers to pay a productivity-based wage to eligible people whose work productivity is reduced because of disability. Most Australians who have a disability and participate in the open workforce do so at full rates of pay and productivity. However, some people are unable to obtain a job at full wage rates because of the effect of the disability on their level of work productivity. Employers must have access to a SWS provision in their industrial award or enterprise agreement to enable the use of SWS productivity-based wages.

The Australian Government contracts a panel of independent assessors to conduct workplace productivity assessments for employers who wish to employ people with disabilities under the SWS provisions.

Employees not covered by awards

Employees with a disability who are not covered by an award or agreement are entitled to one of the special national minimum wages:

Special national minimum wage 1 – for employees with a disability which does not affect their productivity. For adults, this is $719.20 per week or $18.93 per hour.

Special national minimum wage 2 – for employees who have a disability that does affect their productivity. They get a percentage of the National Minimum Wage. The percentage is based on their “productive capacity” which is assessed by the Department of Employment. For example, if the employee has a capacity of 70%, they would get 70% of the National Minimum Wage (70% of $18.93 = $13.25 per hour).

Preparing the workplace

Employers considering employing someone with a disability may need to make changes to the workplace to ensure it is accessible.

Many people with disabilities won’t need changes to the workplace, so it’s a good idea to speak with employees first. In most cases, the person with a disability will be able to tell the employer what reasonable adjustments are needed, such as the possibilities for flexible working hours and access to counselling.

Disability discrimination and harassment

Disability discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably, or not given the same opportunities as others in a similar situation because of their disability.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person in many areas of life including employment, because of their disability.

Under the DDA, it is unlawful to discriminate against people with disabilities in employment, including:

  • the recruitment process, such as advertising, interviewing, and other selection processes
  • decisions on who will get the job
  • terms and conditions of employment, such as pay rates, work hours and leave
  • promotion, transfer, training or other benefits associated with employment
  • dismissal or any other detriment, such as demotion or retrenchment.

It is unlawful to harass a person because of their disability. Examples of disability harassment include:

  • humiliating comments or action about a person’s disability, such as insults
  • comments or actions which create a hostile environment
  • overbearing or abusive behaviour towards staff with intellectual disabilities
  • disparaging remarks to staff who have made compensation claims.

People with disabilities are often characterised by a high degree of dedication and commitment to their role. Employers can access valuable employees who are reliable, skilled and have a great attitude and desire to work.

Further advice or assistance

For further advice or assistance on this topic, or any workplace relations matter, Employment Plus clients who have placed two or more candidates have free access to the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line. Call 1300 862 217, 8.30am– 5.15pm AEST Mon - Fri