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Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry

Case Study: Why Fitness for Work Assessments are a Win-Win for Employers and Employees

We’ve heard about hundreds of cases in Australia where an employer is legally prosecuted for discrimination against a potential employee, due to the result of a pre-employment medical. It usually goes something like this…

  1. Employer advertises for an upcoming position, interviews candidates and creates a shortlist
  2. Employer offers a potential employee the position, provided they pass a pre-employment medical
  3. The potential employee undertakes the medical however is declared ‘unfit’ due to an underlying or pre-existing medical condition (which may or may not actually deem that person unfit to do the job)
  4. The potential employee does not get the job and sues the employer for discrimination
  5. The employer is burdened with unnecessary stress and thousands of dollars in legal fees and compensation, which could have been avoided by completing an initial Fitness for Work Assessment

Unfortunately it’s all too common and, unfortunately, rarely do we hear about the cases where the employer is found not guilty, where their decision was made solely on a task-based analysis rather than a job description.

Let’s look at the case of Duncan v Kembla Watertech Pty Ltd [2011] where a job candidate, Ms Duncan, brought a disability discrimination claim against a prospective employee, Kembla Watertech.

The prospective employer completed a Fitness for Work Assessment, rather than a generic medical exam, which considered the physical and cognitive demands of the role, as well as a detailed account of required movements. The specialist performing the assessment found that Ms Duncan suffered from a number of conditions that would deem her unable to perform the required tasks safely, and may in fact aggravate existing medical conditions. Kembla Watertech did not proceed with Ms Duncan’s employment, as she was unable to perform the inherent requirements of the proposed job, to which she lodged a disability discrimination claim. It was found that the evidence from the Fitness for Work Assessment supported the employer’s claim that Ms Duncan would not be able to safety perform the role and the case was dismissed.

The lesson learnt here is that when a pre-employment Fitness for Work Assessment is implemented appropriately, and conducted by a trained allied health professional with insight into the specific role on offer, it can be a win-win situation for both employers and employees; not only does an employer hire the right person for the job, but the employee knows that their health and safety is being cared for, they are not being discriminated against – but rather protected from working unsafely.

So when you’re next hiring and thinking about utilising a pre-employment Fitness for Work Assessment, consider it carefully. Done properly, a Fitness for Work Assessment is more thorough, provides protection against discrimination claims and assists in getting you the right person for the job.

Learn more about ‘Medicals versus Fitness for Work Assessments and why they’re important for business’.

Why F4W Assessments are Critical in Recruitment

Our Senior Injury Management Specialist Diana Hurst takes you through the difference between Fitness for Work Assessments and a standard medical, and discusses why they should be part of your recruitment process.

Medicals vs. Fitness for Work Assessments (F4W©) and why they’re important for your business

“…fitting a square peg into a round hole is not only difficult, but damages either the peg or the hole” (Randolph, 2000).

Doctor provided ‘generic’ medical screens are common and relatively cheap. They usually include an assessment of hearing, eyesight, blood pressure, and a medical questionnaire, typically sourced from voluntary disclosure. But the issue with a ‘generic’ medical assessment is that they have the potential to miss important information, rule someone out unnecessarily, rule someone in who shouldn’t be, or open employers up to possible discrimination.


This is why ‘generic’ is dangerous and can actually be quite costly in the end. If a role does not require a specific function, let’s say overhead lifting, and you rule a good candidate out because they cannot lift their arm over their head, then not only have you missed out on a good candidate, but you may have exposed yourself to discrimination.


Likewise, what if you hired someone to do a physical role and they were carrying a back injury they did not disclose to the doctor, or ‘played it down’. They then aggravate their injury at your workplace, put in a valid workers compensation claim and have to stop work. This would be a disastrous outcome for both you and the employee, who is now injured and unable to work.


So how does a good Fitness for Work Assessment differ?


A good F4W© considers the actual physical and cognitive demands of the role and directly assesses a candidate’s ability to perform those tasks safely.


A good F4W© will be based on a task analysis. This is not a job description – which outlines things such as responsibilities, accountabilities or employment conditions, but rather a detailed account of the movements (like bending, kneeling, lifting), frequency of these (e.g. once/day vs 20/day), and load/force (e.g. push 25kg at waist level) required for the role. For example, the physical work an office worker does is entirely different to that of a plant operator – does it make sense for them to do the same test?


A good F4W© will be conducted by a trained allied health professional, such as an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist with experience in preventing and managing workplace injuries. These professionals understand the impact of injuries on work tasks, are trained to detect muscle weakness, poor techniques, signs of fatigue and strain and identify at-risk persons. Their recommendation is based on evidence-based clinical judgement. They can also offer reasonable and practical suggestions to allow you to engage someone with only moderate risk, such as aids/equipment or manual handling training or job modification.


A good F4W© will protect against discrimination and invasion of privacy. Asking questions or assessing things not related to the role can expose an employer to discrimination if you rule that person out based on those answers. Knowing the right questions to ask is crucial. For example, asking whether someone has had a previous workers compensation claim is fraught with danger – and does it matter anyway? What is more important is whether they can perform the role safely. Likewise, too many personal questions without valid reason can be an invasion of someone’s privacy and simply not relevant.


And long-term, a good F4W© assessment provides a baseline for determining how employees are affected by the work they do in your business. For example, an employer can assess the validity of an employee claiming industrial deafness, when in fact, they had diminished hearing prior to commencing employment.


Evidence shows that employees who are not tested for fitness for work have:

By completing an appropriate F4W© assessments, businesses can help reduce accidents, provide a safer workplace, reduce absenteeism and decrease workers compensation premiums and claims costs.


So, whilst it may seem tempting to take the cheap option, employers should consider whether this really will give you the protection and outcome you need. Or will it cost you much more in the end if you get it wrong?


Find out more about Fitness for Work services available.