Are You Being Reasonable?

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Published by Preston Law on 12/10/2023

Managing workers can be extraordinarily rewarding however at times employers can be faced with unusual requests and challenges that can impact a harmonious workplace.

Reasonableness in the workplace must be paramount; are your expectations of your employees reasonable? Is the action taken reasonable management action? Can you make reasonable adjustments to a position?

Most people consider themselves a “reasonable” person, so how do you determine if you are being reasonable when managing your employees?

Case In Point

A recent decision of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia found that Don’s Mechanical and Diesel Service Pty Ltd, were unreasonable and in fact, discriminated in managing an injured employee.

Mr Panazzolo had extensive experience as a diesel mechanic and had worked for the business for a few years. He injured his wrist outside of the workplace and following the recommendation of his doctor, had taken three months of leave. After this time, Mr Panazzolo had medical clearance to return to work on suitable duties, however, was unable to do any heavy lifting.

The employer stated that it could not accommodate Mr Panazzolo’s return to work as he could not discharge the inherent requirements of his former position and it would have caused it hardship if it had had to change its workplace to accommodate him.

The employer required full medical clearance before Mr Panazzolo could return to the workplace.

The Court looked at all the facts and found that the employer had discriminated against Mr Panazzolo. It ordered that the Employer pay damages in the order of $44,000.  The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act of 1992,  states that employers are obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to prevent discrimination and the Court in this matter was satisfied that the reasonable adjustments required were not unreasonable and did not impose unjustifiable hardship on Don’s Auto.

Whilst employers are not responsible for non-work related injuries, there are still obligations to act reasonably in considering suitable duties and other requests from employees.

A failure to do so may cost employers more in the long run.

Reasonable Adjustments in the Workplace

So, the question becomes, what is reasonable, when considering adjustments for injured workers. Comcare defines reasonable adjustments as “any form of assistance or adjustment that is necessary, possible and reasonable to reduce or eliminate barriers at work”.

Timeframes become relevant as an employee may only need reasonable adjustments for a short period of time while they recover. The size of your business also is relevant as an employer with multiple areas of their business is more equipped to find roles or positions that can accommodate their employees.

For assistance with managing your employees, speak to an employment lawyer at Preston Law today.

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