Reasonable work adjustments

As workers increasingly remain in the workforce for longer, inevitably there are heightened risks of illnesses and injuries associated with a maturing workforce. These may include loss of hearing, diminishing eyesight, reduction in reaction time, or problems with hips and knees. 

All states and territories have equal opportunity and anti-discrimination laws and employers are generally obliged to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for a person with a disability, illness or injury. Reasonable adjustments do not mean a complete re-work of the employer’s operations or the role, which are costly and disruptive, but might include minor adjustments to the way in which work is performed, in order to enable the employee to meet the inherent requirements of their role. 

The rights and responsibilities of workers and employers in requesting reasonable work adjustments include:

  • Employees should speak to their employer about their particular situation.
  • Once the employer becomes aware of any personal illness or injury a worker may be suffering, it should undertake a workplace assessment to review what reasonable adjustments, if any, are possible to accommodate and assist the worker in performing their role. This may include a job task analysis, work station assessment, functional capacity review,  fitness for work evaluation and/or seeking professional medical advice. 
  • Employers must make reasonable adjustments to enable a person with a disability, illness or injury to perform the inherent requirements of their role, and ensure this is applied consistently throughout the workforce where possible.  
  • Employers can refuse to make adjustments to accommodate the worker that would result in “unjustifiable hardship”, which could include the financial cost of the adjustments, significant disruption to business or disadvantage to other employees. 

If you are a worker and have a physical or psychological condition, you may wish to speak to your employer about what reasonable adjustments are possible in the workplace to assist you in your role.

Employers should also be aware of their obligations to workers and seek to accommodate requests where possible. Also, employers should not wait for a formal request for reasonable adjustments to an employee’s role, as part of an employer’s occupational health and safety obligations employers should be proactive in managing the risks of illness and injury in the workplace and openly discuss options of reasonable adjustments with employees.

Open communication in the workplace about these sorts of issues goes a long way to strengthening the employment relationship and retaining experienced workers.