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Disability - Workplace

It is against the law to discriminate against anyone in the workplace because they have, or are assumed to have, a disability.

Employees are protected from discrimination at all stages of employment including recruitment, workplace terms and conditions and dismissal

Disability includes:

  • total or partial loss of body function or a body part 
  • the presence of organisms (such as HIV or Hepatitis C) that may cause disease or disability, malformation or disfigurement of the body 
  • mental or psychological diseases or disorders 
  • conditions or disorders that may result in a person learning more slowly.

The law protects people who have had a disability in the past and those that may have a disability in the future (for example, a genetic predisposition to a disability).

While employees have no legal obligation to disclose their disability to an employer, disclosure may be practical in certain situations, such as where reasonable adjustments can be made to support them. 

Reasonable adjustments

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 employers must make reasonable adjustments for a person offered employment, or to an existing employee with disability, to enable them to perform the genuine and reasonable requirements of the job.

For example, a factory provides widened doorways and ramp access to all common areas for employees with disabilities.

The law covers all types of employers and employment relationships from traditional employment relationships to independent contractor arrangements. The only type of employment not covered is work done on a voluntary or unpaid basis, although an organisation may be required to make reasonable adjustments for volunteers with disability in certain circumstances.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 includes some general exceptions. This means that discrimination may not be against the law in particular circumstances. 

There are also specific exceptions relating to making reasonable adjustments for someone with disability in employment.


Employees who feel that they have been discriminated against on the basis of disability can make a complaint to the Commission.

Employees (including a contract worker or a partner in a firm) can also make a complaint to the Commission if they think that their employer unreasonably refused to accommodate their disability where they have made:

  1. a reasonable request to their employer
  2. for a change in working arrangements, and
  3. this request has been denied.

Employers may be vicariously liable for their employees’ acts of discrimination or sexual harassment. Employers can also be directly liable. Find out more about who is liable for discrimination and harassment.

Employers also have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

Complaints of discrimination made to the Commission are resolved through a process called conciliation. Find out more about our process for resolving complaints.

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