We have an employee who is becoming unable to fulfil the requirements of his role due to a pre-existing (non-work-related) knee injury. He has worked for us for many years and we have so far accommodated him by allowing him to:
- change tasks when he needs to rest his knee; and
- take unpaid time off work for medical appointments or to rest his knee.
It is becoming problematic as the frequency of his time off and changing tasks is increasing, and it is affecting his ability to do his job and the rest of the team.
How far do we have to go in accommodating this injury before the situation can be deemed as untenable?
Non-work-related injuries and employer obligations can be a difficult area to navigate. The appropriate course of action will always depend on the unique circumstances at hand. Employers are generally required to provide appropriate support and assistance to their employees who suffer a non-work-related injury/illness. Even if a worker’s injury or illness is not work-related or was due to previous employment, the worker may make a workers’ compensation claim in relation to a pre-existing injury and you may be required to compensate them if, by working with the injury, they have aggravated it and work has become a significant contributing factor to the injury.
An employer is not allowed to discriminate against an employee because of an injury or illness, regardless of whether it was sustained at work or outside the workplace. However, if a worker is unable to perform their core duties, the employer may not be required to make continued adjustments that cause unjustifiable hardship to the business. In these circumstances, it may be prudent to first request the employee to obtain a medical assessment of their present fitness for work. This assessment will help determine the employee’s physical capacity to perform their core duties without continued adjustment, as well as help minimise the risk of exacerbating the injury at work, and your subsequent obligations.
We recommend a cautious approach to action.