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When an employee’s health issues affect performance


18 May 2023

Managing performance can be difficult to approach. Adding an employee’s medical issues into the mix can make matters more complex very quickly. The most appropriate strategy to reach a resolution is dependent on the medical issue you are dealing with.

When health issues affect an employee’s performance, it’s often difficult for managers and employees to navigate, particularly if an employee is absent due to stress and/or the health issue in question. Ideally, it’s best to prevent any issues before they occur and manage associated risks to reduce impacts. This means ensuring objectives are clear, appropriate training is provided, communication is effective, and any behavioural concerns are addressed promptly and informally.

If you are in a situation where you have to manage an employee’s performance and they identify to you (as their employer) that they are experiencing a health issue, it’s important to manage these matters independently from each other. Consider taking these steps:

  • As far as possible, attempt to explore the reasons for poor performance, particularly when a health issue is known or suspected. Don’t ask intrusive questions or force the employee to disclose their health issues.
  • Only request medical evidence from the employee’s nominated treating doctor if disclosed by the employee.
  • If the above points are satisfied and an employee discloses a medical condition and highlights it is affecting their ability to perform their duties, seek a medical certificate stating what the illness/injury is, any restrictions and/or reasonable adjustments.
  • You may need to request an independent medical assessment in some circumstances if insufficient evidence and/or information is provided.
  • Give employees an opportunity to disclose any health problems that might be impacting on their performance but keep discussions focused on work issues.
  • Approach discussions in a non-judgmental way. Ask simple questions about whether anything is affecting the employee’s performance.
  • If an employee discloses a health issue, consider, and agree on any reasonable adjustments and how these might be implemented in the workplace.
  • Where possible, provide support and make reasonable adjustments before following any formal performance management procedures.
  • Consider allowing the employee to be supported in meetings by a Union representative, colleague or someone who is chosen by the employee as a support person.
  • Use mediation to resolve conflict if necessary.
  • Make sure policies and procedures are clearly explained so employees know what to expect.
  • Don’t make assumptions about how a health issue affects an employee and their work performance. Only rely on facts and evidence when making decisions.
  • Adjust communication and language to suit the circumstance and to avoid conflict.
  • Offer support via an EAP service (Employee Assistance Program) regularly, reminding employees throughout the process.

If you have any questions, seeking advice on how this affects your business and/or if you require support on this issue, please contact our Senior Impact HR Consultants on 1300 474 672 or info@impacthr.com.au .

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