Navigation ToggleSearch Toggle

Retention of employees who acquire a disability

Approximately 78 per cent of people acquire their disability after the age of 16 years. There is a strong correlation between age and disability and, as a result, a significant proportion of employees will acquire a disability throughout their working life. The following information is intended when an illness, injury or disability is non-compensable by the workplace.

There may be gradual onset, sudden onset or for some people the impact may only be experienced episodically.

Whatever the circumstance, employers should take steps to retain the employee and this may require implementing workplace adjustments.

Once an employee has indicated that their health situation has changed, consideration should be given to implementing workplace adjustments.

  1. Confirm that the employee has received medical approval to return to work and whether the return to work will be full time or graduated. For clarity, a position description or duty statement should be forwarded to your employee’s general practitioner or health practitioner to ensure informed approval for a return to work is obtained.
  2. Review the job description and the inherent requirements of the job with your employee to check whether:
    a). they are able to complete the inherent requirements of the job, based on their abilities and restrictions
    b). workplace modifications or adjustments are required to assist them complete the inherent requirements of the job.
  3. If modifications or adjustments are required to the workplace, including essential tools, these should be implemented prior to your employee returning to work. For example, a workplace assessment could be undertaken to evaluate your employee’s access to the workplace and assist in determining what adjustments can be made to help your employee return to work.
  4. A ‘return to work plan’ is a helpful document you (or an assisting rehabilitation professional) should prepare for any return to work. Requirements regarding the development of return to work plans may vary, so you should check with your relevant state or territory WorkCover Authority for more information.
  5. You should go through the return to work plan in detail with all significant parties on the day your employee returns to work. All parties should sign the return to work plan to indicate their agreement to, and understanding of, their obligations as part of the plan.
  6. Establish a system with your employee, and other parties where appropriate, to monitor the return to work plan at regular intervals providing opportunity for open dialogue regarding the employees arrangements.
  7. If an employee discloses a disability, you are required to keep all information confidential. If co-workers are required to make adjustments, they will need to be informed of what’s required and you should discuss with the employee their preferences for how and what information is shared. In order to share the information about an employee’s disability with other people within your organisation, including co-workers, you must get written consent from the employee.

Case study

Jake Briggs was a qualified carpenter when an accident caused his disability. Starting out his new life in a wheelchair was challenging, but his employer re-trained him and created a new role that has given Jake the chance to maintain a career.

Watch Jake's story, filmed as part of Twenty years: Twenty stories – Celebrating 20 years of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Useful links and documents