Supporting Diversity: What can employers do to prevent age and disability discrimination in the workplace?
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Supporting Diversity: What can employers do to prevent age and disability discrimination in the workplace?

The Australian Human Rights Commission has published an extensive report on work-related age and disability discrimination, acting as a reminder for employers to remain vigilant in the ways these workers are treated.

As the workforce ages and employees retire later in life, older Australians can feel ‘shut out’ of recruitment, feel that they are offered less professional development opportunities, or be the targets for redundancy during periods of organisational restructure. This can also apply to workers suffering from a disability, and the AHRC is keen to ensure that these groups of employees are not disadvantaged as a result of their age and/or disability.

In their report, the Commission makes recommendations for change 

and calls upon the Government to introduce laws imposing a positive duty on employers to actively prevent discrimination in the workplace. The suggested changes would require  employers to eliminate any potential for discrimination at work, rather than simply responding to complaints or situations as they arise..

The Commission’s recommendations include:

·         That employers review their recruitment and retention practises to ensure they are non-discriminatory

·         Job advertisements must adhere to legal requirements and use appropriate language e.g. the term ‘office assistant’ is preferred over ‘office junior

·         Employers should allow for workplace flexibility including flexible job design, work schedules, modifying equipment, accommodating work premises (ramps, disabled bathrooms) and provide ongoing training in these areas

·         Seeking partnerships with specialist organisations for advice on healthy habits for employees; this ‘above and beyond’ strategy demonstrates to employees that the employer cares for their wellbeing

 

Discrimination on the basis of age or disability disconnects people from society and is directly correlated to increased financial burden, stress and poor health. Employers have a legal responsibility to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring in their workplace. Therefore, recruitment and retention processes should ensure company practices, language and accessibility aren't discriminatory.

 

However, the Commission recognises that there is no ‘one size fits all approach’, and that an employer’s ability to retain a diverse workplace is dependent upon the size of the business and the resources available to the employer.

Lessons for Employers

Whilst the Commission’s recommendations for change have not yet been legislated, employers can consider a more proactive approach towards prevention of age and disability discrimination by:

·         Providing educational programs to help remove stereotypes and adjust behaviours or attitudes that may offend mature age or disabled colleagues.

·         Remembering that workplace diversity is an attractive trait. Hiring and retaining older workers or people with disabilities may enhance the company’s image and reputation among its current and future employees, competitors and customers.

·         Do you have a mentoring program? Mature aged workers can be great workplace mentors and their knowledge, skills and experience can be of great benefit to younger employees.

Summary

Unfortunately, negative assumptions relating to older workers and workers with disabilities have acted as barriers in their ability to find suitable employment. This stimulates discussion on what employers can do to prevent this.

https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/disability-rights/publications/willing-work-national-inquiry-employment-discrimination

Discrimination on the basis of age or disability disconnects people from society and is directly correlated to increased financial burden, stress and poor health. Employers have a legal responsibility to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring in their workplace. Therefore, recruitment and retention processes should ensure company practices, language and accessibility aren't discriminatory.

 

However, the Commission recognises that there is no ‘one size fits all approach’, and that an employer’s ability to retain a diverse workplace is dependent upon the size of the business and the resources available to the employer.

Lessons for Employers

Whilst the Commission’s recommendations for change have not yet been legislated, employers can consider a more proactive approach towards prevention of age and disability discrimination by:

·         Providing educational programs to help remove stereotypes and adjust behaviours or attitudes that may offend mature age or disabled colleagues.

·         Remembering that workplace diversity is an attractive trait. Hiring and retaining older workers or people with disabilities may enhance the company’s image and reputation among its current and future employees, competitors and customers.

·         Do you have a mentoring program? Mature aged workers can be great workplace mentors and their knowledge, skills and experience can be of great benefit to younger employees.

Summary

Unfortunately, negative assumptions relating to older workers and workers with disabilities have acted as barriers in their ability to find suitable employment. This stimulates discussion on what employers can do to prevent this. 

Christine Broad

Solicitor - Blandslaw

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