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What outcomes can I expect?

Each case is different, so what happens after your health assessment will depend on the reasons for your health assessment, the findings of the assessment and your agency's policies. This might include:

  • confirmation of employment (in cases where you have undergone a health assessment as a condition of engagement)
  • clearance to travel overseas for the purposes of your employment
  • staying at work, with or without reasonable adjustments
  • returning to work, with or without reasonable adjustments, or
  • incapacity for continued work.

There is a general misconception that health assessments are used to push people with ill health out of the workplace. This is not the case. On average, terminations due to physical or mental incapacity represent less than three per cent of all separations.

Staying at or returning to work

More often than not, people are able to keep working or return to work. Staying at work or returning to work will generally be an important part of your recovery or rehabilitation process—returning to work is more than just an ‘end point’.

Sometimes, returning to work might take a period of time or happen in a graduated way (usually called a graduated return to work). An employee may require work-related reasonable adjustments to support them to keep working or to return to work. These adjustments might be necessary for just a short period, or for the longer term.

JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund

The Australian Government's JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund helps people with disability or mental health conditions by providing financial assistance to purchase a range of work related modifications and services. Assistance is available for people who are about to start a job or who are currently working, as well as those who require assistance to find and prepare for work.

The Employment Assistance Fund may reimburse the cost of work-related modifications and services including:

  • the cost of modifications to the physical work environment
  • modifications to work vehicles
  • adaptive equipment for the workplace
  • information and communication devices
  • Auslan interpreting
  • specialist services for employees with specific learning disorders and mental health conditions
  • disability awareness training
  • deafness awareness training, and
  • mental health awareness training.

The Employment Assistance Fund is available to Commonwealth government employees. Job Access Employment Assistance Fund http://jobaccess.gov.au/content/employment-assistance-fund

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments enable people with ill health to participate in the workplace to their full capacity. Reasonable adjustments are many and varied, but might include:

  • Changes to:
    • working hours
    • days
    • duties
    • work practices, or
    • management styles.
  • Adjustments, such as new or modified:
    • equipment
    • furniture, or
    • software.

Your health assessment report should identify any reasonable adjustments you may need. However, if there are any other reasonable adjustments (not identified through the health assessment process) you should discuss this with your manager. Your agency should have a policy on reasonable adjustments which you can obtain from your human resources team.

There are a range of resources available on reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

  • Comcare's factsheet on reasonable adjustments includes information on ‘What are reasonable adjustments’, ‘What is considered in making reasonable adjustments’ and ‘What is reasonable when making adjustments’.
  • The Australian Public Service Commission's video ‘Leading the Way: Reasonable adjustments in the workplace’ provides personal accounts from APS employees on the importance of reasonable adjustment in the workplace
  • The Australian Human Rights Commission's information on employment includes an explanation of reasonable adjustments, unjustifiable hardship and inherent requirements of a job in the context of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Return to work plan

If you are off work and your health assessment finds that you are able to return to work, your agency will work with you to develop and put in place a plan in advance of your return to work. This may include a formal return to work plan, which should incorporate the information from your health assessment and any other relevant information you provide to your agency.

Your return to work plan should include:

  • your personal and work-related details (including name, contact details and work area)
  • your case manager or return to work coordinator's details
  • your manager's details
  • the context of the return to work plan (that is, the nature of your illness or injury)
  • the date of your most recent health assessment
  • timeframes (for example, how long will the plan be in place for)
  • agreed hours and days you will work (that is, if there's any adjustment to your usual hours or days)
  • any reasonable adjustments you may need (for example, reduced hours or new equipment)
  • the duties you will perform each day
  • expectations, roles and responsibilities (for example, what will happen if you have a relapse or are unable to meet the terms of the return to work plan)
  • a review date for your return to work plan
  • signatures from you, your case manager/return to work coordinator and your supervisor.

Your return to work plan will help you, your supervisor and your case manager to work together to make your return to work as successful as possible, without exacerbating your health condition or giving rise to any new conditions. It will also help your supervisor to identify and provide suitable (and meaningful) work for you to do upon your return.

An adapted version of a return to work plan may also be useful even if you haven't had a period away from work, but your duties or working hours have been adjusted based on the outcomes of your health assessment.

A template for a return to work plan is included in Working Together: Strengthening our approach to health assessments in the APS—Guidance for Managers.

‘Employees who have a successful return to work have supportive management. Management makes it known to the employee that they care what is happening to them. It's human nature that we want acknowledgement, that we're part of a team, and that our efforts at work are appreciated. Something simple such as a phone call from someone inquiring on how they are and if there is anything the workplace can do…’

Dr Brenda Tait, Advisory Group for Comcare's Centre of Excellence in Mental Health and Wellbeing at Work

Incapacity for continued work

In a very small number of cases, an employee's health condition may permanently prevent them from being able to work. Section 22(3)(d) of the Public Service Act 1999 allows an agency head to terminate employment where an employee is unable to perform their duties because of mental or physical incapacity. This ground is rarely used to terminate employees.

If you are a member of a Commonwealth superannuation scheme (the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme (CSS), the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme (PSS) or the Public Sector Superannuation accumulation plan (PSSap), there are particular requirements relating to termination on medical grounds as it relates to your entitlement to receive invalidity retirement benefits.

If you are a member of one of these schemes and it is unlikely that you will be able to work again, you should consult with your relevant scheme authority to find out what your options and entitlements are.

If you are not a member of a Commonwealth superannuation scheme, the same requirements do not apply. However, your agency must be satisfied that your physical or mental incapacity is sufficiently serious to prevent you from performing your duties and must comply with the relevant provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 before considering terminating your employment.

Depending on the circumstances, other grounds for termination may be applicable. However, agencies must take care to avoid claims of discrimination on the basis of disability.