By Jeff Salton
Increasing numbers of businesses are taking more notice of the state of their workers’ mental health, especially after research shows that in each year at least one in five Australians will suffer from a mental illness (Australian Government Department of Health).
This means that many businesses will have workers who take medication for depression and other psychological issues. Are you able to request that these workers disclose the number and types of medications they take?
Can you set up a register to cover all types of legally prescribed medications for emergency services to refer to in case of an accident?
Health and Safety lawyer and Editor-in-Chief of the Portner Press Health & Safety Handbook, Michael Selinger, says companies that are concerned about the effect of any prescription medication on their workers’ ability to perform their duties safely can direct workers to inform them of any such medication.
“This would constitute a lawful and reasonable direction. It is also something that could be included in any drug or alcohol policy in your workplace,” says Michael.
“If the prescribed medication is not something that affects workers’ ability to perform their duties at work, you cannot compel your workers to provide the details of their medication. However, you could request that workers voluntarily notify you of any medication they are taking, which is to be used in the event of an emergency,” he adds.
Companies that are generally concerned about the health and welfare their workers, subject to any employment contracts, policies and procedures, may be able to direct a worker to attend a medical examination to assess the risk to their health and safety (and that of others) in continuing to perform the inherent requirements of their roles.
“This falls within your duty to ensure the health and safety of your workers,” Michael says. But he adds that any request for a worker to attend a medical examination must be reasonable in the circumstances.
He warns employers that mental illness is defined as a disability under anti-discrimination legislation and any actions that you may take that treat these employees any less favourably than other employees may give rise to a discrimination complaint and the general protections regime under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).