Discrimination is only discrimination if you end up being sacked

About your Guest Hoyden: Jo Tamar is a human rights lawyer who blogs about things that catch her eye relating to feminism and equality generally.

So says Dr Rex Simmons.

Well, that’s how I interpret the linked article, anyway.

I acknowledge that I haven’t read the study itself, and the newspaper article might be misrepresenting that study. However, I find some of the direct quotes from Dr Simmons somewhat, well, problematic.

Let’s take a look.

The study apparently says that many people with MS put off telling their bosses (and so receiving appropriate accommodations at work, which might help them to manage their MS) because they are afraid they will be discriminated against.

Dr Simmons says that fear is unfounded, because “only 15 per cent of people [left] their jobs because they were sacked”.

I assume this means that that’s 15% of people leaving their jobs, and not 15% of people who told their bosses they had MS. If it’s the latter, that’s actually a significant amount of discrimination – about 1 in 6! But even if it’s the former, that seems to me to be fairly significant. It may be that not many people are getting sacked because of their MS, but it does tend to support the idea that it is a realistic possibility that you will be sacked if you tell your boss you have MS. In other words: the fear of discrimination (eventuating in unemployment) is hardly unfounded!

Secondly, I have some news for Dr Simmons. Being sacked is not the only form of discrimination. A person who knows their work environment well might have quite justifiable fears about other types of discrimination if they disclose their MS. It’s not sufficient to make a blanket statement that not many people get sacked because they have MS, therefore there is no need to fear discrimination – before you can say that you shouldn’t fear discrimination, you need to look at the situation more generally.

There’s also a bit of person-who-has-MS-blaming, too. Dr Simmons blames the people with MS for not managing their symptoms properly by not telling their bosses and hence not getting appropriate accommodations. Seems to me that employers are really the ones in the position of power here. If employers put appropriate policies in place, and if those employers were seen to follow those policies, so that employees could trust their employers, then maybe there would be a supportive atmosphere in which an employee could naturally feel comfortable disclosing to their employer that they had MS. Without that sort of thing happening in places of employment on a regular basis, you can hardly blame employees who happen to have MS for feeling that they might, just might, be discriminated against.

Finally, what amandaw said: disclosure can be problematic, and once you’ve disclosed, there’s no taking it back. (She said a lot more than that, and a lot better than I could, so go and read it!)

In the circumstances, it’s not really a surprise that a person with MS might put off disclosing it!

Cross-posted at Wallaby



Categories: law & order

Tags: , ,

4 replies

  1. Being sacked is not the only form of discrimination. A person who knows their work environment well might have quite justifiable fears about other types of discrimination if they disclose their MS.
    For example, being given a job which is basically designed to make you quit (and thus save the employer from having to cover the costs of making accommodations, or dealing with the costs involved in sacking someone). Suddenly having your job changed from something productive to pure make-work is a good example of this. Then there’s the other version of bureaucratic hell which can be visited upon employees by the forces of HR – “just fill in these forms so we know what you’re capable of doing now” (they say, handing over a stack of paper which is taller than the recipient). There’s the endless justification to managers, the explaining the limitations to supervisors and colleagues (repeatedly) and so on and so forth.
    The other thing which is worth noting is that not everyone who develops MS is going to be employed in the first place, and having any invisible disability (be it mental health or musculo-skeletal) acts upon one’s employability prospects rather like a 1-ton weight on a bit of tissue paper.

  2. Suddenly having your job changed from something productive to pure make-work is a good example of this.
    In the olden days in the Public service, this was known as “special projects”. I’m not sure if this is still the case.

  3. Ms Tamar. In a purple fit of rage I, too, have not yet sought the source material. But. Let’s blame the sub-editor for a stupid slug at least, shall we?
    I can aver from personal experience and continued involvement with MS fund-raising that the claim that discrimination simply doesn’t exist in the workplace is a stinking pile of horse-shit.
    Although the disease afflicts 20,000 Australians, a majority being women, a majority being diagnosed young. it is poorly understood. Any misstep in the workplace is frequently blamed on MS. People with a disease that *may* end in paralysis are not viewed as desirable employees. This is often despite the fact of their ongoing abilities.
    Simply put, most loathe disability and illness and want no part of it. Claims that our industry and broader culture are tolerant are most unhelpful. Ugh.
    Anyhow. Please contact me if you’d like to discuss MS further.

  4. Re Meg’s comments about paperwork and having to explain all the time etc etc – I repeat my recommendation to read amandaw’s post, if you can, because it has a horrific story about a situation of that sort (which is also anger making).
    Ms Razer: “Although the disease afflicts 20,000 Australians, a majority being women, a majority being diagnosed young. it is poorly understood.” This made me laugh ( =howl with anger) – I take it you’re with me when I say that the “although” could, perhaps, be a “because”, with some emphasis on the identity of the majority of people diagnosed. As you say: ugh.

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