Managing long-term employee absences due to injury or illness is fraught with danger. Let's face it, in these situations dealing with an employee's wellbeing and business needs can be a difficult jungle to navigate. On top of that, there's WHS issues, discrimination concerns, and unfair dismissal risk to contend with. So, it's worth taking note when an employer gets it right.
Recently, the Fair Work Commission gave Sigma Healthcare a gold star for its management of an injured store worker.
The store worker suffered physical injuries from a car accident, later developing a mental illness. While the treating doctors generally agreed the store worker had no capacity to work for the six months following the accident, they were vague and uncertain about if or when she could return to work.
Fast-forward 12 months of Sigma giving the store worker a "fair go", the company terminated her employment because she did not have the capacity to perform the inherent requirements of her role.
The key of Sigma's success? Patience and confidence in its decision.
Sigma considered changes to the employee's role to accommodate her injuries and regularly sought health information from doctors regarding her prognosis and capacity to return to work. Even when that information was lacking, Sigma was careful by giving the employee the heads up that it was considering terminating her employment but it first wanted input from her and her doctors.
Through this process, it became clear that the employee wasn't coming back to work anytime soon and it was no longer reasonable for Sigma to keep her job open.
Like Sigma, employers should approach any dismissal due to incapacity with caution. While keeping a job open for over 12 months may not be possible in all situations, being patient and fair will always be the best way to go.