‘Exceptional’ University of Sydney academic with disability at risk of losing his job

Posted 7 months ago by David McManus
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Dr Niko Tiliopoulos [pictured] has been issued a notice of termination due to shifting working conditions. [Source: Horton Advisory]
Dr Niko Tiliopoulos [pictured] has been issued a notice of termination due to shifting working conditions. [Source: Horton Advisory]

You can let Niko know that you have his back!

Key points:

  • Dr Tiliopoulos has worked for the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology for 16 years
  • The University’s Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott claimed that the return to face-to-face classes had been enforced to deliver high-quality education
  • Students have reported that the quality of Dr Tiliopoulos’ remote teaching had been ‘exceptional,’ although the senior lecturer has been let go on the grounds of ‘ill health’

 

Dr Niko Tiliopoulos needs the support of students, advocates and staff, following the launch of a petition to try and save his job at the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology.

Dr Tiliopoulos, a senior lecturer, is severely immunocompromised and has multiple severe respiratory conditions. After he sought a flexible working arrangement, the University proposed to terminate his employment on the grounds of ‘ill health.’

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Niko began to work remotely to deliver what students reported to be ‘exceptional’ remote lessons. However, when the University stopped offering remote units in September, the academic was compelled to provide documentation from his specialist, who stated his life would be at risk if he returned to in-person teaching.

Niko said he hopes that an arrangement can be made to facilitate his continued work at the University of Sydney, as a purported employer of choice for staff with disability.

“I’ve had to adapt my life to accommodate my disability and I hope the University of Sydney will come to the table and discuss adapting its practices to genuinely accommodate the needs of its staff living with disability,” Dr Tiliopoulos said.

“Discrimination against individuals with disabilities in a workplace in Australia is not just disrespectful to basic human rights; it is a blatant reflection of systemic injustice that denies equal opportunities.

“The time is well overdue for workers to shatter these barriers, challenge the biases and ensure workplaces are truly inclusive. Disability must not define one’s professional journey.”

In a statement provided to Talking Disability, a University of Sydney spokesperson said the University can’t comment on individual matters due to privacy concerns.

“While we can’t comment on individual matters due to our strict privacy requirements, we take our obligations to comply with relevant disability discrimination legislation very seriously – including by providing ‘reasonable adjustments’ to assist staff members with a disability to perform the inherent requirements of their role,” the spokesperson said.

“There are many cases across the university where these adjustments are in place but employees are still required to perform the inherent requirements of their position.

“We consider that the best kind of learning is in person and while some courses are offered online, the bulk of our offerings are in person and in many cases the mode of delivery has implications for course accreditation.

“We remain strongly committed to ensuring our staff and students with disability have equal opportunities during their time with us, and strive to be an accessible workplace and place of study.”

The National Tertiary Education Union, the union representing all university staff, has launched the petition to try and prevent Niko’s termination. The petition, titled ‘I stand with Niko,’ is calling for Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott to:

  • Uphold the ‘Disability Inclusion Access Plan’
  • Intervene to protect Dr Niko Tiliopoulos’ employment at the University of Sydney
  • Meet with the Disability at Work Network and NTEU reps about remote work policies for staff with disability

 

The NTEU had initially attempted to negotiate outcomes with the University internally, including urging the University to investigate workplace adjustments to keep Dr Tiliopoulos employed, but the University refused to budge.

Division Secretary of the NTEU NSW Mr Vince Caughley said he hopes the University upholds its commitment to the ‘Disability Inclusion Access Plan’ and its internal Disability At Work Network.

“Niko, just like every university worker across the country, carried the sector through the pandemic while working remotely and delivering world-class education online,” Mr Caughley explained.

“Now Niko’s asking for some support and flexibility to keep doing his job remotely due to his disability and the University of Sydney’s response is to try to fire him.

“If you work at the University of Sydney and you have or obtain a disability, you’ll always be worrying about them trying to fire you for it instead of making any efforts to support your career. Niko’s fight is every NTEU member’s fight.

“If the University of Sydney is willing to take this extreme, heartless action when a worker with disability asks for some flexibility and support, then the University’s present and future staff will always feel that pressure on them.”

The NTEU has started industrial disputation and a Medical Review Committee, which have so far failed to protect Dr Tiliopoulos’ job due to the University’s insistence on their right to fire him.

A Facebook post from 2019 has served as a source of grassroots support for spreading the word of Niko’s termination, rallying students to sign the petition.

“Dear [original poster], I know that I’m reviving an old post, but Dr Niko Tiliopoulos, the subject of this post, faces being fired for his disability and health condition due to the University refusing to allow him to teach remotely,” the comment stated.

“I strongly urge as many as possible to sign the petition from the NTEU calling on the School of Psychology and university management to reverse this awful decision.”

 

To sign the petition, please visit ‘I stand with Niko.’

Have you faced discrimination in the workplace? Let the team from Talking Disability know!