One in five Australians live with disabilities and there are many situations that could result in an employee experiencing an accident which results in reduced capacity for work and a disability. It is therefore essential for companies to know how to handle return-to-work including reasonable adjustments effectively. This article will cover this topic in more detail in order to help you consider the reasonable adjustments you need to make for any employee returning to work with a disability.
What are your responsibilities as an employer?
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1992 requires that any employer should make reasonable adjustments for an employee with a disability. This is unless the employee could cause unjustifiable hardship within the work environment. Furthermore, under the provision of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, workplace alterations, aids, and appliances are also accounted for.
There are many benefits to the process of providing reasonable adjustments. Some of these benefits are that it enables the company to retain talent, fosters a supportive and caring culture for employees and it also promotes inclusion. Furthermore, people with disability typically have fewer days off, take less sick leave, and tend to stay in jobs for longer. Nowadays, many employees and prospective employees hold in high regard the efforts that an organisation goes through to promote participation and foster inclusive and diverse cultures.
The most suitable effective return-to-work is targeted to the employee’s needs and addresses the major barriers to return to work. The combination of strategies invoking the combination of work accommodation, work-focused healthcare, and RTW coordination, are proven to be very effective in a successful return to work. With that said, it is important to understand what is considered a reasonable adjustment in order to be prepared for the changes required.
There are several ways to make the return to work easier for an employee with a disability and these include:
• Flexible working arrangements
There are many positions that do not require an employee to work from the office. When this is the case, the return to work can be much easier. Working from home has turned into a very useful way for companies to lower costs and increase productivity, so this is always a good option.
• Working hours
Sometimes it is not that relevant for an employee to be in the office or on the clock for a specific set of hours. It is extremely important to keep this in mind and give the employee a flexible schedule as long as they get the work done.
• Job redesign
If an employee performed specific tasks within the organisation that they are no longer capable of doing, there is the possibility of reassigning some of those tasks. This should be possible as long as it does not disrupt the workflow of those involved.
• Vocational training and support
After their return to work and an altered capacity for work, the process of helping that employee retrain and learn new skills is important. After all, employees have a diverse set of skills and are capable of learning new ones with the appropriate training and support. Once more, the commitment to helping an employee return to work, will in turn increase employee loyalty and efficiency.
• Assistive technology to help with specific disabilities
Technology can be very useful and helpful in the process of helping people with disabilities perform at their peak. There is a wide range of assistive technologies that can assist such as instant messaging, screen readers, mobility and hearing aids, and sensor-based switches. These types of technologies can help ensure that the employee can perform to the best of their ability and makes them feel supported. Technology is always evolving and keeping up with all the latest releases is important.
• Workplace design
While it would never be expected for an employer to make any substantial changes to the infrastructure of the business, it is reasonable to add ramps or certain useful changes to specific areas if this helps a disabled employee. Some other minor changes to the workspace might include an adjustable desk, computer or laptop stand, or an adjustable office chair.
Funding through Employment Assistance Fund
There is also funding available through the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) for eligible people with disability to pay for work-related modifications such as adjustments to workspace, equipment, special technologies, communication devices, and support services. The funding also includes disability awareness training for the workplace.
Free workplace assessments
Furthermore, free workplace assessments are available through the EAF to ascertain what modifications or equipment might be required to assist your employee with performing their role. The assessment is typically referred to as a Workplace Modification Assessment and is carried out by a qualified professional.
Returning to work
Returning to work after an injury, illness, or with a disability can be daunting for employees. A return-to-work plan that eases them back into work might be the preferred approach for both parties. It enables clarity on what is required from each party and provides the structure needed to make the adjustment as smooth as possible.
A disability does not mean an employee is no longer a valuable contributor and that their return to work will be a strenuous and difficult process. Far from it, but unfortunately, this is the inaccurate stereotype that a lot of companies have. There are however many opportunities for employees with disabilities to return to the workplace and be fantastic contributors with at times some small alterations and or support from their employer. Don’t make assumptions and verify eligibility for the free workplace assessment to get a clearer understanding of what is required. A collaborative approach between the workplace, healthcare providers, and the employee to identify and implement appropriate accommodations is important.
Know your responsibilities
It is very important to ensure that as an employer you make efforts to assist employees returning to work after an injury or employees returning to work with a disability. There are obligations that need to be fulfilled as per the Disability Discrimination Act and it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of their disability. The exception to accommodating requests for a return to work is when the requested adjustments would impose unjustifiable hardship on the organisation.
Final thoughts on return to work
It is essential for any business to consider reasonable changes when they are looking to help an employee return to work. By following a thoughtful approach, employers and employees are more likely to make their return-to-work efforts effective and sustainable. Hurdles can be overcome with the solutions outlined above. Remember that for return-to-work to be effective, it requires a multicomponent workplace-based intervention that involves collaboration between the workplace, healthcare providers, and the employee.
At HR Expertise, our HR consulting services in Melbourne and across Australia can support you with ways to make the return to work easier for your employees and we can provide return to work programs. Contact us today, we would love to work with you.