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Are we obligated to make adjustments for injuries not caused at work?

Q: A person who has been employed with us for 7 months has just brought to our attention that she has ongoing issues with her back due to four car accidents that she was involved in prior to commencing employment with us. She has been receiving ongoing treatment from various medical practitioners.

Her current doctor has made recommendations to change her workstation by getting a new chair and possibly a stand-up desk. The doctor has told me that we would need to pay for any changes to her workstation.

Can you please let me know what our obligations are, particularly as we had no prior knowledge of the worker’s condition? Is it our responsibility to implement and pay for the changes recommended by the doctor, and are the doctor’s recommendations binding?

My understanding is that if the work exacerbates the worker’s back, then it is our legal obligation to change the work to cater for her needs. How could we do this? What other things do we need to be aware of to make sure that we manage the situation effectively and appropriately?

A: You have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of this worker. As you are now aware of her injury, you will need medical evidence that she is fit to attend work. Further, you should take reasonable steps to ensure that she does not exacerbate her injury, i.e. by not requiring her to perform tasks which could do so.

Although the doctor’s recommendations are not binding, you are required to make reasonable accommodations so that the worker can perform the job. This includes implementing and paying for reasonable changes to the workstation set up.

You should require the worker to provide you with a medical certificate stating that she is fit to perform her job (albeit with a change to the workstation). You should also check with her regularly to see how she is recovering and, if there is any indication that she may not be fit for work, require her to provide a new medical certificate. Finally, you should not require her to perform any tasks that could affect her recovery.

Please note: The answer is correct at the time of publishing. Be aware that laws may change over time. Refer to Pre-employment assessments for current advice.

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