Discrimination, reasonable adjustments and workplace injury: Butterworth v Independence Australia Services (Human Rights) [2015] VCAT 2056 (22 December 2015)

Published 28 March 2016

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal awarded a woman $3,325.25 for economic loss and $10,000 for non-economic loss after her employment was terminated due to a workplace injury and a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

Ms Butterworth worked at Independence Australia Services (IAS) as a Customer Service Officer from 2007 until 2013. In 2013, Ms Butterworth’s employment was terminated.

Ms Butterworth claimed to have Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a workplace injury and an adjustment disorder.

Ms Butterworth claimed IAS unreasonably requested medical information after she disclosed having Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

The Tribunal found the request for medical information was not unreasonable. Instead the Tribunal believed the company was trying to help Ms Butterworth and the information was reasonably necessary to protect her health.

Ms Butterworth claimed IAS discriminated against her based on her disability by redeploying her back to the call centre, which she felt was a demotion.

The Tribunal found that Ms Butterworth’s redeployment did not constitute discrimination as the change in her duties was not a ‘modification or restriction’, nor was it a demotion. She continued to work as a Customer Service Officer as outlined in the position description.

Ms Butterworth claimed she was subjected to detriment, including bullying from Mr Dowling, as a result of her disability.

The tribunal found Ms Butterworth was not subjected to detriment based on the above findings regarding the unreasonable request of medical information and her redeployment. The Tribunal also considered Ms Butterworth’s dislike of Mr Dowling and that he was unlikely to have been aware of her disabilities during the alleged incidents in coming to this judgement.

Ms Butterworth claimed IAS failed to make reasonable adjustments for her after she sustained a workplace injury.

The Tribunal found IAS failed to make reasonable adjustments as the role of a Customer Service Officer included duties Ms Butterworth could perform. The Tribunal found she could have adequately performed her job had she been redeployed to another division.

Ms Butterworth claimed IAS unfairly terminated her employment based on her workplace injury and this constituted discrimination.

The Tribunal agreed with Ms Butterworth in that her termination was based on her injury.

Consequently, the Tribunal awarded Ms Butterworth $3,325.25 for economic loss and $10,000 for hurt and distress.

Read the full decision here

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