Workplace adjustment request treated like injury recovery case

December 2023

Kate* has arthritis in her hip, back and knees as well as a bulging disc and sciatica, a type of nerve pain, and another permanent disability. Some days are good, but some days she is unable to put weight on her legs, stand or walk. Kate is often unable to sleep at night due to pain. Sometimes she needs to manage the effects of strong pain medication and attend medical appointments that have little flexibility for rearranging. She is also a parent to a young child.

Kate started a temporary role in a NSW Government department in 2020, during COVID-19 lockdowns. Her manager was aware of her conditions and circumstances, and as everyone was working from home at the time, there was no issue.

Kate says that throughout her employment with the department, everyone has been more than satisfied with her work performance. Her specialised knowledge and her productivity and efficiency have been recognised.

Kate’s role does not require any frontline or in-person customer service, and all the tasks required can be performed online from anywhere with the standard IT equipment issued to everyone in her team.

Recently, staff across her department have been asked to return to the office at least 3 days a week.

Kate checked the department’s Workplace Adjustment policy, which is intended to remove barriers that prevent people with disability performing to their full potential. She put in a workplace adjustment request form, asking for flexibility to be able to continue working from home 4 days a week.

Kate’s request appears to have been treated not under the Workplace Adjustment policy, but rather as a temporary injury that might be managed under a return to work or injury recovery policy.

She was told she needed to be assessed by a doctor and provide evidence from the doctor about her conditions. She was required to sign a “recovery plan” agreement that included various strict conditions. For example, she is required to contact not only her manager but also HR immediately if she is sick. She is required to attend the office on two set days each week. When Kate recently asked to work from home on one of these days to attend a medical appointment, this request was not allowed.

Kate spoke to her department’s Disability Employee Network (DEN), and they offered to meet with Kate, her manager and HR to help them apply the workplace adjustments policy to her case. However, this meeting did not lead to HR or management changing their approach.

From Kate’s point of view “they are just not listening”. Her physical and mental health are being affected by the stress of her current situation, but she feels she has no choice but to stay and hope things improve as she needs the money.

Kate hopes that in the future, HR staff and managers receive better training about workplace adjustments and how to apply the policy.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual

Information alert

For more workplace adjustment information, NSW Government managers and employees can visit the Public Service Commission website or contact their Diversity & Inclusion, Work, Health & Safety or HR teams. You may also wish to reach out to your Disability Employee Network (DEN).

If you have trouble accessing workplace adjustments or experience disability discrimination at work, please contact Anti-Discrimination NSW on 1800 670 812.

Last updated:

01 Dec 2023

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