A former Centrelink worker, who is totally blind, has lodged a complaint of impairment discrimination in the Human Rights Commission claiming he was regularly shamed and later sacked for working too slowly.
Brendan Donohue told Guardian Australia that he was not provided with accessible systems, equipment and other support to work effectively.
He also alleges a whiteboard used to track staff performance publicly diminished his work performance in circumstances where he lacked appropriate support.
‘Too helpful to customers’
Mr Donohue’s job required him to call people who had been flagged by Centrelink’s computer system as owing money to the government.
He would then request details from pay slips verbally to establish if the debt was legitimate.
“I was always in trouble from the department for being too helpful to customers,” he told Guardian Australia.
“People often got quite upset that DHS was calling them because supposedly they had a debt and they had no idea what the debt was about.”
‘Whiteboard of shame’
Mr Donohue told Guardian Australia he was regularly singled out on a whiteboard that charted staff performance – known among staff as the ‘whiteboard of shame’ – as being consistently slower than his colleagues.
“It always came across that I was not necessarily doing good work,” he said.
“My [disability] dramatically affected those stats on the board. The expectation of the branch was to complete 10 phone calls a day. If you got below the 10 you were deemed to not be performing to a standard that the department thought was good enough.
Terminated for not meeting targets
“One day they called me in. We go in there and they say unfortunately you haven’t met the targets and we’re terminating your employment. Staff were literally only given five minutes to say goodbye. I was led to the lift.
“We had great people at DHS but none of them knew about accessibility. None of the staff were knowledgable about totally blind people and screen readers and braille displays.”
Donohue’s complaint against Centrelink and job provider Adecco says he found processes and systems inaccessible, and that some of the department’s computer programs did not work with his screen reader.
“I did not have enough time in the morning to read all the communications I needed to with only 10 minutes start-up time,” the formal complaint says. “[I] missed a lot of very important communications throughout the day relating to my work position,” he said.
Centrelink denies shaming staff
Centrelink said it takes complaints of discrimination very seriously and would respond to any allegations through the Commission.
In a statement released last week, the agency denied shaming staff through the use of whiteboards:
“How the department and the teams use the information contained on the whiteboards has been entirely misrepresented.
“The numbers do not refer to debt targets. The whiteboards are a part of our management process, [which] works by creating visual links between data and people.
“Naming and shaming has nothing to do with our process.”
If you have experienced discrimination on the basis of an impairment or disability, you may be entitled to compensation.
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