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Last Updated May 24, 2021

Fitness for Work – managing employees with non work related injuries or illness

Throughout an employees working life there will be occasions when they have an injury or illness (physical, mental or emotional) that is sustained outside of the workplace. This can have short or long term impacts on their ability to effectively perform the requirements of their role in the workplace and their fitness for work.

As an employer, you have the right and responsibility to address any concerns with an employee in regard to their health and wellbeing, as part of your safety obligations. There are a number of activities that employers can undertake to assist employees in maintaining fitness for work.  These include:

  • Educative programs to inform employees on the potential impacts of lifestyle choices including medication, illicit drugs, alcohol, fatigue and other issues relating to general well-being and work performance

  • Offering regularly medical testing eg. skin checks, hearing, asbestos, health checks as appropriate to the role

  • Develop and support appropriate return to work plans

  • Offer annual immunisation/vaccinations to specific positions/employees

  • Maintain regular contact (as far as practicable) with employees injured or ill from non-work related issues and WorkCover

  • Monitor extended sick leave to assist employees to return to work

  • Maintain appropriate levels of customer service and staffing during periods of leave in excess of one week in support of the health and safety of remaining employees in the workplace (where practicable).

As employees, it is important that they also play a vital role in ensuring their own fitness for work. This includes undertaking the following responsibilities:

  • Participate in health and wellbeing programs provided by the business

  • Notify their Supervisor immediately if their health or fitness for work changes from a work-related injury or illness or from a non-work related issue that impacts on their health and fitness at work

  • Provide medical certificates in accordance with the relevant policies and procedures

  • Provide a clearance to return to work for non-work related illnesses or injuries where requested

  • Maintain their health and wellbeing at a level that enables them to complete the requirements of their role

  • Complete their role and act without compromising their own safety or the safety of those in their care, other employees, or members of the public. 

Following an injury or illness outside of the workplace, there are a few steps an employer can take to manage an employees fitness to perform their role upon their return.

Note that, unlike workcover where an employer is required to find an injured employee any work, if an employee is injured outside of work, the employer needs to make reasonable modifications to support the employee back to their substantive role.

After a period of time, depending on the nature of the injury, the position and the ability to recover from the injury or illness, the employer has options on how to proceed. The employer may be happy to continue with the temporary arrangements or they may wish to move the employee to a suitable alternative role or conclude their employment.

Steps the employer can take for the returning employee include:

  • Identify a change – Some common triggers for initiating a fit for work process might be when an employee has suffered a non-work related injury or illness, has been away from the workplace for an extended period on sick leave that is not related to a workplace illness or injury, or cannot safely perform requirements of their role.

  • Notify the business – Employees should notify their Supervisor/Manager of any non work related injuries or illnesses that will impact their ability to safely perform their role.

  • Prepare documentation – Employees should be provided with relevant information to take to the medical appointment with their treating practitioner, include information about the process, position description and information required.
  • Process leave – All time off from work to recover from a non work related injury or illness and to attend medical appointments will be treated as sick leave and will need to be applied for as per normal leave processes. Where an employee has exhausted sick leave entitlement they may access sick leave without pay and other forms of paid leave.

  • Seek medical advice – Before an employee can return to work after a non work related injury or illness, they need to seek medical advice from their treating practitioner and complete a Statement of Fitness to Work.

A Statement of Fitness to Work is more than a medical certificate. It provides extra information and confirms if/when an employee is deemed able to return to work and if there are any restrictions. This determination is made by an informed assessment using the employees’ position description. 

  • Notify the business – Employees should provide their Supervisor/Manager with a copy of the Statement of Fitness to Work prior to the employee returning to work.

  • Modifications – The Supervisor/Manager should consider any restrictions prescribed by the treating practitioner and confirm with the employee what can be accommodated. This will continue until the employee is fully fit for substantive duties. Any altered hours or amended duties will be assessed on a case by case basis, prior to the employee returning to work. Refer to “Extended Advice” for in the event where an employee will no longer be fully fit to perform their role.
  • Documentation – should be provided to the employee, confirming the details of any arrangements in line with advice from the treating practitioner including temporary arrangements, restrictions or continued leave.
  • Extended Advice – may be required should the Fit for Work process continue for a longer period of time and/or if the business requires additional and/ or detailed information, regarding the employees ability to be fully fit to return to their role.

The business may need to direct an employee to attend a further medical appointment either with their treating practitioner or an independent medical practitioner and in this instance will pay for the cost of medical appointment and report. The business can then make a determination of the future employment of the employee.

It is best to address any concerns about an individual employees health and wellbeing as soon as they are noticed. This means taking the time to talk openly with the employee and find out all relevant details of the illness or injury specific to the role and the business. Where appropriate it is important to seek medical advice from a treating practitioner before making modifications to an employees hours of work and duties.

For further information and assistance with managing employees with short or long term non work related injuries or illness, contact Small Business Society .

The information provided in this document is for your guidance only and is general in nature. It does not constitute as legal advice. It is the responsibility of the individual to seek legal advice where required. If you are a small business with less than 15 employees your obligations may vary from the advice provided.

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About Kate Tongue

Kate Tongue is the founding Director of Small Business Society.

She is a qualified and experienced Human Resources professional with more than 10 years of experience across the private and public sectors.

Her particular interest and experience is in managing the employee life cycle, delivering process improvements, and Human Resource strategy.

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