Accountancy firm fined for discriminating against employee with mental disability

The Fair Work Ombudsman has fined an accountancy firm which discriminated against an employee over a mental disability.

Accountancy firm Bush and Campbell, based in Wagga in the NSW Riverina region, agreed to pay $17,805 to the former long-serving accountant for loss of wages and compensation for the “stress, hurt, humiliation, embarrassment and injury to feelings” she suffered as a result of the discrimination.

As part of an enforceable undertaking signed with the FWO as an alternative to litigation, Bush and Campbell will also spend $6,000 over the next two 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.

Bush and Campbell must also write to the affected employee expressing its “sincere regret and apology” for its actions and place notices at both its Blake Street premises and in local newspaper the Daily Advertiser, giving a commitment that such conduct will not occur again.

In its letter of apology to the former employee, who worked for the accountancy firm for more than 10 years preparing and producing income tax returns and financial statements, Bush and Campbell admits it treated the woman “unfairly” after she advised the firm that she had been diagnosed with depression.

Bush and Campbell admitted it dismissed the employee in May, 2010 because of her mental disability and contravened her workplace right to have reasonable adjustments made to accommodate her disability.

It also admitted to injuring the employee by refusing her earlier request for a support person in performance reviews and other meetings and discriminated against her and other employees, in particular by excluding her from attending training sessions because of her mental disability.

In a statement announcing the prosecution, Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson said every employee is entitled to a workplace free of unlawful discrimination.

“Allegations made to the FWO about discrimination in the workplace are concerning and where they fall within our jurisdiction, we will investigate them, and where appropriate, we will take action,” he said.

Wilson emphasised the increasing use of enforceable undertakings by the FWO with the enforceable undertaking with Bush and Campbell being the 33rd since July 2009 and bringing the amount of money recovered to more than $5.4 million for more than 6,900 employees.

He said the best advice he can give to managers is to “do unto others as you would have them do to you”.

“As we age, our demographics change and Australia’s workplaces become increasingly diverse, there can be no place for telling people they have to go because they are pregnant or because they are perceived as past retirement age or because their language or religion doesn’t fit with yours … and there can be no place for tolerance of sexual or other harassment,” Wilson said.

Terry Fuller, chief executive of Bush and Campbell, told SmartCompany the agreement reached between FWA and Bush and Campbell meant he was unable to comment.

 

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