Supporting Disability and Illness in the Workplace - Tips for Employers

Physical Health

Man in a wheelchair talking to colleagues.

Over 4.4 million Australians have some form of disability and almost half of them are of working age. With our ageing population and people working longer, it’s likely employers will have more staff in the future who have a disability or illness. So it is worth taking the time to review the current systems and policies in your workplace to look at ways to improve.

Most employers want to do what they can to help employees with a disability or illness, but not all workplaces get it right. Some do too little and discriminate against a disabled, ill or injured employees, while others do everything they can to assist their employees. With some simple adjustments to the workplace environment or usual practices, employers can ensure an inclusive environment for all staff members.

#1 Make Reasonable Adjustments

Employers are expected to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ which include a ‘change to a work process, practice, procedure or environment that enables an employee with a disability to perform their job in a way that minimises the impact of their disability.’ This should start at the recruitment process by asking candidates if they need any adjustments made to help them complete recruitment activities.

Once employed, an adjustment may involve providing the right equipment such as a ramp, extra training, adaptive technology or flexible work arrangements for a person with a disability to be able to perform their job. Employers should ask their employees what support they need.

Employers aren’t required to complete major adjustments to the physical environment that may cause financial hardship. However, there is financial assistance available through the Federal government for workplace modifications for employees with disabilities.

It can help to have at least one person in the organisation who is trained in reasonable adjustment requirements and accessibility guidelines. They will act as the champion that other staff can ask for advice.

#2 Create a Supportive Culture

A supportive culture builds a happy and productive team of employees. There are many ways to create a supportive culture and sometimes the first step is to review your current culture. This could be with a culture survey and interviewing employees and then looking at areas for improvement.

Providing resources to employees can also help create a supportive culture and ensure support is available when needed. This is especially important for individuals dealing with a disability or illness as they may have unique issues that are different to other staff members. Remind employees often that there is an EAP available for them to use whether they have a work or personal related matter. Tell staff that the organisation understands all employees have personal lives and that it often has an impact on work life. There is carer’s leave available, but if an employee needs more assistance, speak to their manager or HR personnel. Employees should feel comfortable asking for assistance from their employer.

Privacy in the workplace is important. An employee may be happy to tell management and HR of their illness diagnosis or disability but may not want their colleagues to know. An employee’s right to privacy should be respected and management should take steps to ensure the personal information isn’t revealed.

#3 Provide Training and Technology

Providing training for all staff can educate workers on how to consider the needs of their colleagues with a disability. The training can ensure they don’t set up a meeting in a poor location or fail to use adaptive technology to improve their colleagues’ experience.

The needs of a disabled or ill worker often change over time. The organisation should make a point to meet with their employee regularly to ask if there is anything they require, any problems they’ve encountered or new technology that’s become available that may help in their role.

#4 Run Inclusive Work Events

Most organisations want to be considered as inclusive towards employees who may be suffering from a disability or serious illness. So it’s important to ensure a person with a disability is well supported in being able to do their job, their needs should be considered for social or work events held off-site. Not being able to join in with colleagues can make a person feel their employer doesn’t value them enough to make concessions for their needs.

#5 Get Expert Advice and Support

People with disabilities can bring a range of skills and talents to an organisation and shouldn’t be overlooked during the recruitment process. Employers of prospective and current disabled employees are supported by the Altius Group Work Assist Program which is available to eligible organisations and individuals through Australian Government funding. The service provides support with job design, onboarding, training and skills development. The service is free to eligible businesses with employees who are at risk of losing their job due to an injury, disability or health condition.

If you require more information about the Work Assist Program or providing an EAP program for your employees, call 1800 258 487 or get in contact online

Category: Physical Health