Recently we’ve seen many business owners facing the same issue around managing employees with injuries or illnesses that are not related to work.

What can employers do when their employees are not fit for work but want to return to work?

Whilst it is the employee’s responsibility to be fit to carry out the work required for their role, employers are required by law to provide appropriate assistance to employees who suffer non-work related injuries or illnesses. Further it is against the law to discriminate against an employee because of an injury or illness, including a non-work related injury, so reasonable steps should be taken to assist the worker where feasible for the business.

Most employers want to do the right thing by their team, and often accommodate the needs of their employees as much as possible. This can be motivated by a sense of duty or responsibility, to maintain harmony in the team, show support for the individual, and maintain business operations. While such intentions may be virtuous, or even seem the most practical from a business point of view, there are some important factors to consider when dealing with this situation.

Risk of Worker’s Compensation claims

It’s understandable that people may become injured outside of work, and with seemingly less serious injuries it may appear that there is no harm in having the person back at work.

Unfortunately, we have seen some cases where this has gone terribly wrong.

To give an example, let’s say an employee has sustained a knee injury playing sport on the weekend. He is able to walk though, and so comes to work Monday saying he can work, but only light duties. It may seem easiest in this situation to oblige this request for light duties until his knee is better, but this is dangerous territory. People with new injuries can readily forget their limitations and may, out of habit, undertake activities that strain or cause further injury to themselves while at work, potentially leading to a Worker’s Compensation claim. What’s worse, is that their impairment may also lead to accidents causing damage to property or injury to other employees or even customers.

While the original injury has occurred outside of work, if there isn’t any supporting documentation, it could be difficult to prove it’s not a workplace injury, and then the employer bears the responsibility.

As an employer, what are the alternative options for dealing with injured workers?

If the employee is unable to perform their role due to sickness or injury, they are entitled to take sick leave, or leave without pay, if they don’t have enough accrued sick leave.

Before returning to work, employers can request that the employee undergo a medical assessment to determine their fitness for work. It is best to provide a position description to ensure the activities required for performing the role are taken into account during the assessment.

Allowing an injured employee to return to work

Before deciding to allow an employee to work with an injury, it’s important to consider:

  • What kind of modified duties are appropriate?
  • The impact on other people in the team
  • If the person can work a full shift
  • How long would they require modified duties or modified working hours
  • The likelihood of workplace injury and risk of Worker’s Compensation claims
  • How the employee’s recovery time may be prolonged due to insufficient rest
  • Whether this may set a precedent for others in the workplace

Regardless of the extent of the injury, or any changes made to accommodate the injured employee’s situation, it’s crucial to ensure the new working arrangement is agreed to in writing.

When an employee is unable to return to work after injury or illness

By law, employers have an obligation to keep an injured or ill employee’s position open during their absence for a period of time, however if the employee is ultimately unable to return to work and perform their core duties, under certain circumstances the employer may reasonably terminate the employment arrangement.

Need assistance dealing with injured workers? Get in touch with our team for practical and professional advice.