Legal Obligations

While supervisors are not required to have an intimate knowledge of the legal frameworks which guide these obligations, it is important have a general awareness and understanding of the legislation relevant to the management of mental health issues at the University of Tasmania. These include both federal and state legislation, as well as Standards specific to educational institutions.

Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (State)

Mental health is covered in this Act as a 'Disability' – which includes any of the following:

  • a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person's thought processes, perceptions of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour.

The Act identifies that Discrimination is explained in two different ways:

  • Direct discrimination: When a person treats another person less favourably because of any prescribed attribute or characteristic – this includes disability.
  • Indirect discrimination: This will take place where a person imposes a condition, requirement or practice which is unreasonable in the circumstances and has the effect of disadvantaging a person who has a prescribed attribute or characteristic.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA)
Section 22: Discrimination in Education (Federal)

This Act similarly defines mental health and discrimination as outlined above and states that is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of their disability by:

  1. Refusing or failing to accept the person's application for admission as a student; or
  2. In the terms or conditions on which it is prepared to admit the person as a student.

It is also unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student because of their disability by:

  1. Denying the student access or limiting access to any benefits provided by the authority;
  2. Expelling a student, or;
  3. Subjecting the student to any other detriment.

AND

  1. By developing curricula or training courses having a content that will either exclude the person from participation, or subject the person to any other detriment; or
  2. By accrediting curricula or training courses having such a content.

Disability Standards for Education 2005

These Standards clarify the obligations of education and training service providers under the DDA and the rights of people with disabilities in relation to education and training.

Making Reasonable Adjustments to Candidature

It may be necessary for a university to provide adjustments for Candidates with a mental health illness, enabling them to be able to participate fully in their studies. This may include providing more time to complete work, reducing stress by revising and prioritising goals, and offering flexible candidature options (e.g. part time candidature).

Sections 3.4 of Disability Standards for Education (2005) outlines that an adjustment is reasonable in relation to a student with disabilities if it balances the interests of all parties, and includes the:

  1. Student's disability;
  2. Views of the student;
  3. Effect of the adjustment on the student, including the effect on the student's:
    1. Ability to achieve learning outcomes; and
    2. Ability to participate in courses or programs; and
    3. Independence;
  4. Effect of the proposed adjustment on anyone else affected, including the education provider, staff and other students;
  5. Costs and benefits of making the adjustment.

These legal obligations are reflected in the University's Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination Policy.

Research Training Ordinance

Supervisors also need to have an awareness of the Research Training Ordinance which outlines regulations relating to periods of leave and suspension. Specifically, the Ordinance (Section 4 - Candidature) deals with the circumstances under which a suspension of candidature, for illness or other reasons, would result in more than 12 months of total suspension over the course of the maximum degree period, and sets out the process to be followed.

Supervisors needing further guidance regarding legal considerations or obligations in relation to the management of Candidate mental health issues should contact their GRC or Legal Services, University of Tasmania.

For further information regarding reasonable adjustments, see the Human Rights Commission document: Workers with Mental Illness: a Practical Guide for Managers (PDF 1.52MB).