light duties at work

Life is unexpected, and as much as we do not like to think about it, accidents happen and these can have serious consequences for an individual, with a knock on effect to the business they work for.

Hazel Sanders in our team recently advised a client in just this situation.


A motorcycle accident causes serious injury

An employee had been knocked off his bike and seriously injured. Thankfully the injuries were not fatal although sadly they might be life changing for him. Hopefully with future operations the employee will return to full health and the employer’s aim is for the employee to return to work when he is fit enough. The employer wants to support the employee while he is rehabilitated and to keep his job open for him.


Good news that he’s on the mend but how can we find him a role?

The employee has now partially recovered and is able to return to work doing light duties pending further operations.  The employee’s own role includes regular heavy lifting so will not be suitable for him at this stage.  The employer is concerned that the duties available within their business will not be suitable as they all include walking, lifting, carrying or other physical work.  The business is relatively small and cannot afford to let the employee ‘cherry pick’ duties from various roles, as they would still need other employees to complete the other tasks allocated to the role and they would not be able to sustain the increased cost.


Given the nature of the injuries sustained, it is likely that this employee would be considered disabled and this will trigger the duty to make reasonable adjustments if there are working practices or aspects of the premises that place him at a disadvantage.  In any event it would be good practice to consider whether the business can accommodate light duties as this will keep the employee engaged with the business and help prevent animosity growing.


Gather information and get an informed opinion

We’ve suggested that the employer pulls together job descriptions from across the business and seeks a medical opinion on whether any of the roles are suitable for the employee to undertake.  Occupational Health Practitioners are best at providing this type of practical advice but as the employer is concerned about the cost of the report we have suggested that they ask the employee to approach their GP in the first instance, although we have warned that the GP might say that they are not be willing/able to respond.  Once the medical opinion is received we have advised that they meet with the employee to discuss the evidence and the employee’s views.


Reasonable adjustments and sustainability

We have reassured the employer that they only obliged to make reasonable adjustments and this does not require them to make a new role for the employee or incur costs which are not sustainable for business.

What needs to be achieved is a balance between the needs of the business and the right of the employee to be integrated and supported back to work.  We will continue to support the employer throughout the employee’s absence and aim to achieve the positive resolution they are looking for.

Employers can be daunted by the mention of reasonable adjustments but knowing your responsibilities and having a practical, logical approach can take the stress away and help to maintain a good relationship with the employee during long periods of absence.