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How do health assessments work in practice

Every situation that involves health and your employment is different. It involves a range of variables, including your personal circumstances, health condition and work situation, as well as the agency you work in and how the process is managed.

Your agency may have its own policy on health assessments which you can obtain from your human resources team. This policy should include information about:

  • who makes health assessment decisions and when
  • the process the agency takes for nominating a medical practitioner
  • who pays for the appointment or any cancellation fees, and
  • what the agency will do with the report of the assessment.

If you have been directed to attend a health assessment, a checklist to step you through the process is included under ‘Useful tools’ in this guidance.

Before your health assessment

If one or more of the circumstances prescribed in regulation 3.2 of the Public Service Regulations 1999 arise, your agency may decide that, for your own health and/or safety and for the health and/or safety of those around you, you should undergo a health assessment. In most cases, this process will be managed by, or through, your human resources team. Depending on the particulars of your case and your agency's policy, you may be assigned a case manager.

You must be advised in writing of the direction to attend the health assessment. It is also good practice for your agency to speak to you directly about the decision and the reasons for it before you are directed in writing to attend.

Your agency will nominate a medical practitioner to conduct the health assessment. This may be your own health provider (GP or specialist) or your agency will decide that it is more appropriate to use an independent medical practitioner.

The correspondence advising you of the direction to attend the health assessment may also include the date, time and details (including the nominated medical practitioner's details) of your health assessment. While your agency can direct you to attend a health assessment within a specified period, you must be given a reasonable opportunity to attend. If you are unable to attend at the time suggested by your agency, let your human resources team know as soon as possible, including the reason you are unable to attend.

Remember: you are allowed to ask questions about the reasons for the health assessment and about the process. Your manager is the best person to talk to.

You can also talk confidentially, at any time, to your agency's Employee Assistance Program.

In most cases, your agency will provide the nominated medical practitioner with a list of questions about your capacity to work and how this might be affected by your health condition. Your agency may also ask the medical practitioner questions about:

  • alternative suitable duties if there is work you are unable to do
  • reasonable adjustments the workplace might need to make
  • expected timeframes around your recovery
  • whether you can participate in usual work activities (such as performance management processes), and/or
  • any other information necessary to support you to stay in or return to the workplace.

Performance management

Sometimes, when an employee is suffering from ill health, their work performance can suffer as a result.

Generally, if you are able to work, you should be participating in normal work practices (such as performance management processes). These practices can be modified to accommodate your specific needs and your manager should take into account any mitigating circumstances, including the impact of your health on your performance.

If your health condition is preventing or restricting you from participating in performance management or other normal work practices, it may be necessary for your agency to seek specific medical advice—through a health assessment—on your capacity to participate in these practices. It may be that you need particular adjustments to support you to perform effectively.

If you would like to, you can take a support person with you to your assessment. This person is there to provide support to you but they cannot participate in or comment on the assessment process. You must make sure that your support person knows this.

You must also let your manager and human resources area (or case manager) know in advance if you plan on having a support person with you at your health assessment so that they can advise the medical practitioner.

During your health assessment

What happens at the health assessment will depend on the particulars of your case.

Generally, the medical practitioner will ask you some questions, review any supporting documentation and conduct the medical examination. The medical practitioner who conducts your health assessment will not provide you with any treatment or referrals, although they may liaise with your treating practitioner (your GP or specialist) to gain any necessary medical-related information. Your treating practitioner will continue to provide you with any ongoing treatment or rehabilitation.

Participating in a health assessment can be confronting. Remember that the primary purpose of your health assessment is to determine your capacity to work without risk to your own or others' health and safety, keep you at work, or get you back to work safely and as soon as possible.

You are allowed to ask the medical practitioner questions about the health assessment while you are there. If you have any concerns with the health assessment after your appointment, you should raise them with your manager or human resources area (or case manager).

After your health assessment

After the assessment, your agency may request that you provide a report of the health assessment, or they may seek this information directly from the medical practitioner. Your agency does not need your consent to obtain this report25. Under the Privacy Act 1988 you are also entitled to a copy of this report.

After the initial health assessment, you will likely have most of your follow-up appointments with your treating medical practitioner (that is, your GP or your specialist) so it is a good idea to provide a copy of your health assessment report to that doctor. Sometimes, because of the sensitive nature of the information contained in the report, the medical practitioner conducting the health assessment will require that the report is released to you through your treating doctor.

The report may also include medical recommendations for rehabilitation, suitable duties, reasonable adjustments and ways your agency can support you to stay at or return to work.

What if I don't agree with my health assessment outcome?

If you don't agree with the outcome of your health assessment, you should put your concerns to your agency in writing, detailing the reasons why you disagree with the assessment and including any evidence that supports your claims. You should provide this to your manager and your human resources team.

Your manager and your human resources area will need to take this into account when considering your case and, depending on the issues you have raised, may need to seek additional input from the medical practitioner.

Right of review

Under section 33 of the Public Service Act 1999, you have a right of review of actions or decisions that relate to your APS employment. This includes the direction to attend a health assessment.

You must apply to your agency head for review in the first instance. When an agency receives a valid review application, it is required to:

  • review the action and attempt to resolve the employee's concern
  • advise the employee in writing of the outcome, the reason for the decision, and any action the agency intends to take, and
  • advise the employee of their right of review by the Merit Protection Commissioner.

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your agency's review, or your agency has advised you that the matter is not reviewable, you can make an application for a secondary review to the Merit Protection Commissioner.

There are also a number of circumstances in which you can make a review application to the Merit Protection Commissioner in the first instance. These are:

  • for review of an agency decision that an employee has breached the APS Code of Conduct and/or of the resulting sanction
  • if the agency head was directly involved in the relevant action or decision
  • where it is not appropriate, because of the seriousness or sensitivity of the action, for the agency head to deal with the review application
  • where the employee claims that the relevant action or decision is victimisation or harassment because of having made a previous application for review.

Time limits apply to review of actions. More information is available on the Review of actions page.

Your agency will also have a policy and procedures that deal with review of actions. You can obtain a copy of this from your human resources team.


Footnotes

25 Australian Privacy Principles http://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/privacy-resources/privacy-fact-sheets/other/privacy-fact-sheet-17-australian-privacy-principles