Employees may develop an impairment through an accident or through a degenerative illness. This obviously creates many new challenges for them and also raises issues for their employer. Questions include:
Taking steps to assist an employee to remain at work or return to work makes good business sense:
Where an employee is injured at work, an employer must consider their particular circumstances. This consideration is guided by a web of protective legislation that places a number of requirements on the employer. The general intention of the legislation is to ensure injured or disabled employees can, wherever reasonably possible, either keep their jobs or return to work at the earliest opportunity.
Keeping actively involved in the workforce is widely recognised as essential to the financial wellbeing and personal self-esteem of injured or disabled employees. The legislation aims to promote this without imposing unreasonable disruptions on employers or risk of harm to the employee or others.
An injury may result in an impairment that is short-term, long-term or permanent. The accident compensation legislation (Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act 2001) provides certain statutory entitlements to an injured employee. These include:
The Act places a strong emphasis on rehabilitation, particularly in the workplace of the injured or disabled employee. The Accident Compensation Corporation provides a case manager who will usually develop a rehabilitation plan with the employee and their employer. This may involve scheduling a gradual return to work, alteration or reallocation of tasks, and arranging any necessary alterations to the workplace.
Where an employee develops an impairment, an employer is required to take reasonable steps to accommodate them. This may involve the provision of special facilities or assistance for that worker.
Employees who are given less favourable terms of employment, conditions of work, opportunities for training, promotion or transfer, or are dismissed because of an impairment may have grounds for action against the employer under the Human Rights Act.
The following process will meet the needs of both the disabled employee and the employer:
A number of actions may be necessary to enable the disabled person to continue to contribute at work, including:
Look at provisions for sick leave, how it may be used, consultation provisions about changes to jobs, and notice periods.
Accident compensation and rehabilitation legislation
If the injury or disability occurred through work, there are particular requirements. If it is not work-related, the employee nevertheless has entitlements to social and vocational rehabilitation.
The Human Rights Act prohibits termination, non-promotion, changes of job, or lesser conditions of work for disabled employees, unless there is a particular exception.
Employment relations legislation
In addition to the minimum standards of employment, employers and employees are required to be responsive and communicative in all aspects of the employment relationship.
Health and safety legislation
The employer is required to assess health and safety risks for workers, clients and other users of the workplace. This assessment should identify what information, training or procedures may be required.
The needs and personal health status of a disabled employee may need to be discussed among a range of people - managers, supervisors, safety and union representatives, other employees, and medical or occupational advisors.
Be aware of the need to balance this involvement with respect for the individual's privacy. The nature and purpose of the information gathered and the use to which it will be put should be discussed with the employee. While some "evaluative material" from supervisors or managers is confidential to the business only, the employee will be entitled to see most other material, including medical reports.