By Renae Withoos
CASE DETAILS: In a recent case, a mechanic who suffered an injury outside of work was awarded damages because his employer mishandled his return to work. This legal case, heard by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA), highlights the importance of carefully considering the recommendations from medical professionals and how they can be woven into a return-to-work plan to support injured and disabled employees.
The employee, a 58-year-old diesel mechanic, had injured his wrist in a non-work-related incident, specifically, an unprovoked assault while walking his dog. After following the recommendation of his surgeon to take three months off work, he attempted to return to his job with a medical clearance that indicated he could not engage in heavy lifting for three months but could resume light duties. However, rather than accommodating this, the employer insisted on receiving a full clearance from a medical professional stating he was fit for ‘all duties’ before they’d allow him to return. This directly violates the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act of 1992. This Act requires employers to make “reasonable adjustments” to prevent discrimination.
In this case, the employer was unsatisfied with the medical clearance from the orthopedic surgeon and insisted on an evaluation from a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist recommended that the employee was suitable to return to the role, in a restricted manner. However, the employer misinterpreted this recommendation, believing the employee was unfit to work.
The primary failure on the part of the employer was their inability to provide the necessary “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate the employee’s injury. The court concluded that a staged return to the workplace was possible in this case, and that a functional capacity assessment of the employee’s ability to perform his duties in the workplace should have been undertaken. As a result, the FCFCOA ordered the employer to compensate the worker with $44,000 in damages.
This case highlights the stark reminder that employers have an obligation to assist an employee’s return to work, even when injuries happen beyond the workplace. Moreover, a commitment to fairness and transparency throughout the process is not only a legal requirement but also integral to maintaining a workplace culture that values inclusivity and the well-being of all employees.
Therefore, employers and HR departments must have a strong understanding of their legal obligations regarding accommodating disabled employees and must demonstrate the feasibility of potential “reasonable adjustments.”
Integrated Human Resourcing is an outsourced HR firm based in Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast. As human resource specialists, we work closely with your business to understand your needs and to ensure ongoing business success. If you would like to know more, or need assistance with return-to-work policies, accommodating injured employees or legal obligations, please email: email@example.com or call us 5613 1846.