Wagga Wagga accountancy firm Bush and Campbell Pty Ltd has suffered immeasurable damage to its reputation and brand, a hefty payout and the cost of lengthy Fair Work proceedings when it admitted to discriminating against a former long-serving accountant on the basis of mental disability (depression).

The Company admitted it was in breach of 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 that disability. Additionally, the Company refused the employee’s request to have a support person present in performance reviews and other meetings and it discriminated against the employee by excluding her from attending training sessions because of her mental disability and workplace right.

As an alternative to litigation the Company agreed to sign an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman which includes the following:

  • A payment of $17,805 to the employee for loss of wages and compensation for the “stress, hurt, humiliation, embarrassment and injury to feelings” she suffered as a result of the employee discrimination;
  • the Company to spend $6,000 over the next 2 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;
  • the Company to provide a written apology to the employee which expresses its “sincere regret and apology” for its actions and it must place notices at both its Blake Street premises and in the Daily Advertiser giving a commitment that such conduct will not occur again.

This case once again demonstrates the need for employers to be aware of their workplace obligations to treat employees fairly and not to discriminate against them due to mental or physical disability, pregnancy, race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, marital status, family or carer responsibilities, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin. Employers also need to recognise that depression is a mental disability and care should be taken not to discriminate against employees who might be suffering from it.

In an effort to assist employers to understand their obligations under the Fair Work Act, the Fair Work Ombudsman today announced the release of its Fair Work Handbook