Office for the Public Sector



Research shows that workers with a disability benefit employers by improving their operations and strengthening links with the community.

The benefits for employers include:

  • employees with disabilities often have better attendance and safety records
  • employees with disabilities often have a higher staff retention rate, which saves recruitment and training costs
  • the employment of workers with disabilities is often viewed positively by co-workers and can have a positive effect on workplace morale.

The Government of South Australia encourages and values diversity by supporting workplace cultures based on fair and equitable treatment of employees. Supporting the employment of people with disability is a key focus of our commitment to workplace diversity. In partnership with the Equal Opportunity Commission the following material has been prepared to help you learn about disability in the workplace and disability discrimination.

What is a disability?

A disability can be temporary (such as an illness) or permanent. A disability can be a physical disability such as an illness, a deformity or the total or partial loss of a body part or function. It can be an intellectual disability or a learning disability. It also includes an infection that is not symptomatic, such as HIV. Disability also includes mental illness, such as an illness that affects thought processes, perceptions of reality, emotions or judgement or that leads to disturbed behaviour. It is against the law to treat staff unfairly because of a disability, regardless of whether the disability is permanent or temporary.

Disability discrimination

In South Australia the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 includes discrimination on the grounds of disability. All employers are legally obliged to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace and when hiring or dismissing staff.

What is Disability Discrimination?

Direct disability discrimination is unfairly treating people because of their disability, whether it is a past, present or future disability. Discrimination against workers with a disability may include:

  • not hiring someone based on a perceived or actual disability
  • dismissal or demotion
  • denying or limiting access to promotion, transfer, training or any other benefits
  • unreasonable workplace policies, practices and procedures.

For example:

  • Neville’s job offer was withdrawn after a medical test showed his learning disability meant he would need more time at the start to learn the tasks required. The firm directly discriminated against Neville because of his disability.

Indirect disability discrimination is treatment which appears to be equal but is unfair on certain people because of their disability. To be unlawful it must be unreasonable. For example:

  • Lucy was refused employment because she had made a previous Work Cover claim. This is a case of disability discrimination.

It is also discriminating to refuse to make special measures available so that the person can do the job, where that would be reasonable. Workers with a disability must be provided with any special facilities, services or reasonable accommodations they need to do their job, unless it would cause the employer unjustifiable hardship. Discrimination can also happen because of a perceived disability. If you assume a person with a disability is not able to do the job without checking, it could be disability discrimination. It is also unlawful discrimination to treat people unfairly because of a disability they had in the past or one they may develop in the future. Employers are also liable if staff discriminate against each other because of a disability, and may be held responsible. If you are unsure of your rights and obligations regarding workers with a disability, contact the Equal Opportunity Commission for advice.  

Disability awareness

It’s important that all public sector employees are aware of the:

  • definitions and types of disabilities, and the likely associated access requirements of people with various disabilities
  • positive contributions and abilities of people with a disability
  • stereotypes and misconceptions about people with a disability
  • disabling factors in society, including the physical and social environment
  • communication skills that enable people to more effectively communicate at work and socialise with people with a disability
  • disability legislation and legal requirements for disability equality.

If you’d like to learn more, please contact the Equal Opportunity Commission or let your agency’s human resources area know that you’re interested in disability awareness training.

More information

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 came after Australia signed the United Nations’ Declarations on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons and the Rights of Disabled Persons.  This Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against people because of their disability. For more information contact the Australian Human Rights Commission. More information and a range of helpful resources are available on the Equal Opportunity Commission’s website.

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