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Depressed employee stressed, humiliated and dismissed by accountancy firm

20 November 2012

Picture this: You've just been diagnosed with depression. You sit down with your employer to talk about it and request some adjustments to your working conditions that will help you to deal with your illness. And then they fire you.

Unfortunately, it's a true story. A Wagga Wagga accountant had worked with the firm for over twenty years. When she revealed that she was suffering from depression, her employer requested a medical certificate to prove that continuing to work would not have a negative impact on her illness. They also told her she would have to renegotiate her contract to accommodate the changed conditions. When she produced the certificate, she was told her services would not be required for the remainder of the financial year.

The Fair Work Ombudsman found that the employer had discriminated against the employee on the grounds of mental disability. Rather than proceed to litigation, the ombudsman negotiated an enforceable undertaking with the employer. The employee will be paid $17,805 for loss of wages and compensation for the "stress, hurt, humiliation, embarrassment and injury to feelings" she suffered.

The enforceable undertaking bears other obligations for the employer. The firm will pay around $6000 over the next two years to facilitate workplace relations training for directors and managers. The firm has also provided a written apology to the employee and has posted notices in each of its offices outlining its commitment to not allowing such discrimination to occur.

The Fair Work Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, was very clear in his ruling: "There can be no place for tolerance of sexual or other harassment."

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