Fitness for work (FFW) is the process of understanding if a worker is able to complete their job tasks safely, without presenting a risk to themselves, colleagues or the organisation.
When we talk about fitness for work, we aren’t talking about if they have the necessary qualifications or experience to perform a role. We’re looking to understand if there are any individual factors that influence their ability to perform the inherent requirements of the role, for example – fatigue, substance use, medical fitness requirement (if applicable to role), mental health and wellbeing.
People managers have a duty of care to ensure they support and provide a safe working environment including fitness for work for their workers.
To enable successful conversations with workers, there are several ways in which local governments can support their leaders:
Treadmill desks have become a topic of increased curiosity; they’re all over social media with millions of views, especially after the work from home culture kicked in.
Having fitness for work conversations can be confronting and challenging for both leaders and workers as they may involve questions of personal health (mental or physical), uncertain outcomes, sensitive topics and strong emotions. As challenging as they are, they are a vital tool for effective people management.
Avoiding such conversations can lead to issues like prolonged or exacerbation of the problem, risk to their own safety and that of others, sends a message to the wider organisation that this standard is acceptable, reduced productivity, and increased absenteeism.
Local government leaders should assess the situation and then request a worker do a fitness for work (FFW) assessment. The process of these assessments must be lawful and reasonable.
Consult your relevant policies, procedures and guidelines such as work, health and safety, FFW, discrimination and human resources, and employee relations.
Before you have the conversation, have a clear understanding of the situation you would like to resolve. Collect the necessary evidence or facts to support your concern around the worker’s ability to perform the inherent requirements of their role.
Consult with your internal HR Team or WALGA to support you with the process as required. Think from your worker’s perspective. Enter the conversation with a desire to genuinely understand their situation.
Make an appointment with the worker with context to allow them enough time to prepare. Use your understanding of the worker to guide when to schedule the conversation. This could sound like – ‘Do you have some time this week? I would like to discuss…’
Document every conversation and capture any agreements that were reached. As a leader, take the opportunity to reflect on the conversation. This will support you in learning from the experience and identify areas for improvement. Consider doing this with an HR representative or a senior leader.
Follow-up with the worker so both parties are clear about the process moving forward. You might like to do this in writing.
Most importantly, whilst fitness for work is being established, it is critical that you treat the employee the same way as you did prior to the conversation – in other words, business as usual (unless there are critical safety concerns).
Get in touch with WALGA Employee Relations Service, which provides comprehensive human resource management and industrial relations support to local government members. The WALGA team regularly provides advice on fitness for work matters to local governments.
Local governments face a range of challenges when managing their people, avoiding injury and reducing workers’ compensation claims. Like many industries, the sector is managing an ageing workforce and an increase in chronic issues such as obesity, heart disease, and mental illness.
A major return to work barrier, following a long absence due to an injury or health concern, is a worker’s ability to keep up with the
physical demands of the role. Every job role has a unique footprint that requires different physical and cognitive capabilities.
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generation. WA local governments need to consider inflationary pressures when valuing both their property and motor assets so that they can be confident that if disaster strikes, your protection will be adequate to appropriately respond.