HR clinic: Options when misfortune strikes

The first thing to do is to be as supportive as possible while he is still off work recovering. Evidence suggests that sympathetic employers are far more likely to see an earlier return to work in such circumstances.

But that return could be complicated. Before he comes back, you need to do several things. Discuss with him what issues he thinks should be addressed. Bring him up to speed with developments at work since his accident. You might agree a phased return on a part-time basis, perhaps, particularly if his disability is likely to affect how he is going to do his job in future.

Throughout all this, you should be undertaking a detailed assessment of his disability to see what reasonable adjustments you can make to help him return. It is important not to make assumptions and to involve the employee from the start in planning his future. Nobody will know better than him what he is capable of and what his needs are.

You might also need specialist advice on his disability and the adjustments you'll need to make to address it. It would be sensible to refer him to your own occupational health adviser who, together with the employee's GP, will be able to offer you advice on the injured person's abilities and limitations, and the changes required under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005.

Those changes might be physical, such as reorganising the workplace to improve access or providing him with specialist equipment. They could be to meet support needs, providing an assistant if his disability prevents him from undertaking key tasks such as driving or typing, for example. They might be organisational, and could mean changing his working hours or location, reorganising his job description or perhaps moving him to another job. Everything should be agreed with him, and there is statutory support and funding for many of these options.

You should remember throughout that the legal requirement is to make reasonable adjustments. That should be interpreted as meaning practical measures that are affordable and do not unreasonably disrupt the work of others. If you really cannot find any role for him under any circumstances, then a properly conducted dismissal on the grounds of incapacity would probably be fair, especially if you were generous with any financial settlement.

 John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions


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