Employers are required to ensure the work health and safety of workers while at work. Not only is work health and safety within the workplace a legal requirement for employers, but workplace injuries can have a significant impact on a business and severe consequences for all workplace participants. Significant workplace injuries can have a lasting negative effect on the business through reduced productivity, lost clients, low staff morale, traumatised staff and the associated reputational costs.
The implementation of workplace drug and alcohol testing is a sensitive and complex issue. It is not uncommon for employers in certain industries such as mining, transportation and correctional services, to impose mandatory alcohol and illicit drugs testing for all employees, however careful consideration needs to be given to the corresponding legal obligations owed by an employer vis-à-vis the employees’ privacy and safety. More and more often, the industrial Courts and Tribunals routinely accept that random testing in the workplace is an intrusion on the privacy of the individual and are reluctant to condone such practices other than on genuine health and safety grounds.
As many of our readers would be aware, the second Thursday of September in each year, is a national day dedicated to asking family, friends and colleagues the simple question: “Are you okay?”. Given that Thursday 8 September has just gone by, and in light of growing global awareness of depression and suicide, mental health issues and domestic or family abuse, we thought it would be fitting to write a client alert about this topic.
In last week’s client alert we discussed the significant issue for employers of dealing with a long-term ill or injured employee. As was noted in the article, most employers in our experience generally want to do the right thing when it comes to dealing with employees who are ill or injured and are unable to return to full time pre-injury employment. This however needs to be balanced against the interests of the business, and in some cases it is simply impractical for the employment to continue. In those circumstances, it is however not simply a matter of dismissing the employee on the basis of the injury or illness for which they have been absent from the workplace.
It might surprise some of our readers but one of the most difficult employment issues for any employer to deal with, is a long term ill or injured employee. There is a significant amount of confusion and lack of understanding regarding the rights of both the employee and the employer in these circumstances. Most employers want to do the right thing when it comes to dealing with employees who are ill or injured and are unable to return to full time pre-injury employment, but need to balance the interests of the employee with the needs of the business.
For many employers operating in professional services and non-industrial industries, the concept of work health and safety is, let’s face it, not thought of as a particularly significant workplace issue. Occupational awareness and the maintenance of safe work systems and practices is, however, not only applicable to heavy industries and those where workers are working with dangerous machinery and equipment. Unfortunately, some employers learn the hard way that the work health and safety laws in Australia are expansive and can be incredibly powerful in circumstances of noncompliance. As is often the case, a fairly minor safety breach or incident is enough to expose an unsafe workplace, and can result in the employer becoming the subject of a safety audit by the regulator, who under the Work Health and Safety legislation has a number of enforcement options available to it.