When Can an Employer Arrange a Fitness for Work Assessment?

Mental Health

‘Fit for work’ can mean many different things to people. For some, it refers to being free of injury or recovery after an illness. In some cases, an employer may not be sure if their employee is fit for work or not so they may request a fitness for work assessment be carried out. An assessment can give an employer a good insight into the mental or physical state of a prospective or current employee. But what rights do employers have to order these tests and are employees compelled to complete an assessment?

New Employee Psychological Assessments

In the past employers were quick to order new employees undertake a full medical to ensure they are physically fit and healthy for work. Now employers recognise that it’s not just the physical health of their employees that is important but their psychological health is just as important, if not more so.

Pre-employment aptitude and personality tests are used by private and government organisations to gain an insight into the type of person they are and how well they will fit into the culture of the organisation. Psychological tests may be used to assess an employee's general aptitude, intelligence and personality. They may also give the employer some information about their prospect’s verbal, non-verbal skills and problem-solving abilities. A psychological assessment may also be ordered prior to giving security clearance to a new employee.

Facilitating a Return to Work including Worksite Recommendations

When an employee has been away from work for any number of reasons, a business owner or manager may order a return to work assessment to determine an employee’s psychological state. The assessment may also result in recommendations for the worksite and/or intervention and treatment for the worker.

Some employers see these assessments as part of their duty of care to ensure a worker is ready to return to work and when they do the right emotional and physical support is available to them. An employee may have been recovering from a serious illness or injury that caused them to take extended leave from work. If their level of mobility has been compromised they may not be physically able to go back to the old role. The recommendation could tell an employer if they need to change the duties of the role and/or purchase new aids and equipment that will help the employee return to work. The assessment may recommend a change to the layout of the office and check on accessibility to work and bathroom facilities.

A psychologist may conduct a duties assessment which takes into account the physical, cognitive and environmental demands of work tasks. After assessing all aspects of an employee’s role, a psychologist may make some recommendations for changes to tasks the staff member may not be able to complete and suggest changes to make the return to work easier.

Psychological Fitness for Work Assessments

An employer may want to know the mental state of an employee and whether they are fit for their role, without the risk of harming themselves or a colleague. In some roles, dangerous equipment is a standard part of the job and an employee with a mental health issue can increase risk. It is an employer’s duty of care to ensure the workplace is safe for everyone so an assessment is warranted in many cases for the benefit of all employees. An employee with mental health issues can cause problems in a workplace which affects not only their productiveness but everyone around them. An assessment may give colleagues peace of mind that the employee has been cleared to return to work.

Legal Precedence

In 2008 an Australian Federal Court case confirmed an employer may lawfully direct an employee to undertake a medical assessment where reasonable. The employee argued that his back injury caused his excessive amount of sick leave despite his surgeon declaring him fit for work. The employer ordered a psychiatric assessment to ensure there were no other issues stopping the employee from attending work. The man felt that his employer’s order was in contravention of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

The judge found that an employer’s obligations under occupational health and safety legislation made it reasonable to require an employee to provide medical information and to attend the assessment to determine whether the employee was fit to perform duties safely.  

If you would like more information about psychological fitness for work assessments or return to work assessments, contact PeopleSense on 9388 9000 and we can discuss your requirements in confidence.

Category: Mental Health