When an employee is injured in the course of doing their work it is called a work related injury, and there are requirements on the business to go to great lengths to support the employees return to work and facilitate light duties. However, when the injury occurs outside of work, or is non-work related, the role of the business is providing for the employee to return to work is less clear. In this special series of HR Highlights will explore the requirements when managing a non-work injury in a workplace setting, from Initial Communications around care and entitlements, to Requests for Light Duties to Managing long term illness or incapacity (including termination). This week Part 1 will explore the initial communications, expressing care, confirming entitlements and expectations.
A work related injury is easily defined, on that occurs as a result of work, at work, or primarily caused by work. A non-work injury is any injury that does not fall within this definition. This may include illness.
Some non-work injuries are simple and are easily and intuitively managed. Businesses do it every day. When an employee calls in sick, the business is managing a non-work injury or illness. “I can’t come in today, I have a cold” is a common communication. The employee and the business understand what a cold is, roughly how long it will last and how to treat it. In many cases there is not even a need to see a doctor, rest and time will take care of the issue. In such simple cases the business does not have any need for a more detailed response than to wish the employee well and to process the requested leave.
The process for more detailed cases is the same, though the level of detail, time and treatment required, means a more formal and documented approach is required to be applied to this same process.
By way of example we will explore a recent case, wherein the employee was in a car accident travelling from a personal social event to her home. The car accident was severe, as were the employees injuries. Due to the severity of her injuries, the first the business heard of the accident was when the employee did not present for work at her rostered time and the business reached out by phone, only to be informed of the accident.
While it may be business policy for all absences to be notified, a level of latitude must be granted to employees when the circumstances dictate it. In this case it would have been excessive for the business to contemplate discipline or performance management responses to the breach in policy, as the employee was effectively unable to notify the business of the absence, due to her injuries.
Once notified the business made available all leave entitlements and communicated in writing the desire for the employee to have a speedy recovery, as well as the steps for return to work.
Diagnosis, Prognosis and Management Steps
The primary issue with managing a non-work injury for the business is gathering the information required to assess the impact of the injury on the workplace as well as the duration required for healing. The nature of the injury is the Diagnosis. The anticipated time to heal is the Prognosis. The restriction required to facilitate healing is the Management steps, also known as specified light duties.
In most cases the Diagnosis will be offered by the employee or the doctor; “Mary will be unfit to work due to a sprained ankle”, however, in some cases the Diagnosis will be withheld; “Mary will be unfit to work”. The business does not need the Diagnosis, provided the Prognosis, and any required Management Steps are recorded.
In any non-work injury it is imperative that the business understand the Diagnosis (options), Prognosis and Management Steps, BEFORE the employee returns to work, in order to ensure that the employee does not reinjure themselves while at work (which would be a work injury even if connected to a non-work injury). This imperative exists for simple as well as complicated non-work injuries.
Seeking information and clarifying expectations
In our earlier example of the car crash, the business wrote to the employee confirming their conversation, outlining what entitlements were accrued, and wishing the employee a speedy recovery. The communication also included the next steps required. Initial step was to seek a Medical Certificate outline the Diagnosis/Prognosis. The later steps that would need to be implemented before the employee would be returned to the rosters were also included.
It is important that these steps are clarified in detail and that the inherent physical requirements of the role are outlined in detail, as they will form the basis for discussions with the employees doctor about when the employee is “fit” to return to work and will greatly impact on later discussions if light duties are requested, or medical incapacity becomes an issue.
Further to our recent conversation the business understands that on [date] your were in a car accident while driving between a personal social event and your home. Again I would like to say all our thoughts are with you and we wish you a speedy recovery.
As discussed the business will process your sick leave (personal and carers leave) request as per our conversation. As discussed the business requests that as soon as possible could you please have your doctor forward a medical certificate outlining the impact of your injury and when it is anticipated you will be fit for work (prognosis), so that the business can process the leave requested and implement appropriate contact and review processes. This can be forwarded to myself via email to [email address] or fax to [fax number].
As discussed below are your current leave entitlements accrued as at today;
- Sick (personal and carers) Leave; 24 days
- Annual Leave; 31 days
- Long Service Leave; 0 days (note as you have served less than 10 years, but more than 7 years, pro rata Long Service Leave is not available to be taken or cashed out, only paid out on termination)
As discussed for now the business will process 10 days Sick (personal and carers) Leave and will contact you on [date] to seek instruction on what leave to process thereafter.
As discussed you also have the option of accessing Leave Without Pay.
As discussed we wish you a speedy recovery and will be in touch as appropriate. Once you are well enough to return to work the business will need to see a Fit To Work Certificate from your doctor outlining that you are fit to undertake all of your pre injury duties, including; standing for up to 7 hours per day, lifting items from the ground, restocking shelves, carrying items up to 15kg, processing sales, communicating with customers, responding in an emergency (such as a spill or fire).
All the best.
If the employee provides the information required as requested and is declared “fit” for work and returns, there is little the business needs to do, other that a check in to see that they are doing well on their return.
However, there are several thorny situations that may arise. What if the employee does not communicate with the business? What if they do not comply with the requests to provide information and medical certificates? What if the medical certificates request light duties? What if the medical certificates outline that the employee will not be fit for work for months? These questions will be explored in detail in Parts 2 and 3 of the series.
If the employee injury was a more simple “sprained ankle” the process would be the same; express care, outline entitlements and expectations.
However, in more simple cases such as these the employee may have already seen their doctor and their doctor may have already provided them with clearance to return to work, provided they do not undertake certain duties, or undertake some modifications to the work.
When the injury is non-work related there is no requirement for the business to provide light or modified duties, however, approving or rejecting such requests must be carefully balanced and approached to ensure that the business is protected and that the employee is given appropriate supported space to heal.
This particularly difficult area to manage will be explored in Part 2: Light Duties Requests and Return to Work
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