School officers: Negotiating a medical return to work
Returning to work after a period of medical absence can be difficult, especially if the employer is not being reasonable about how a school officer’s return should occur.
When employees have been away from work due to medical absence, sometimes it is necessary to make a plan to improve the chances of a successful return to work. For school officers, this often means being prepared to consider working fewer hours, cutting out some of their regular duties or possibly considering different duties while they try to get back to work.
Some employers are not receptive to such plans; however, they are required by law to make reasonable adjustments, even where the condition is not work-related.
What needs to be considered when returning to work after sick leave?
School officers should talk to their doctor about any concerns they have about returning to work and make sure they outline the role they undertake.
Doctors are not always familiar with the duties of school officers, therefore a school officer should take a copy of the position description and a list of duties they can perform so their doctor can consider this information.
Elements of the role of school officers School officers should think about the elements of their role and work through what will be needed to address these elements in regard to any support or alternate duties that the employer will need to provide.
The following are some examples which may be considered:
- Assisting in the classroom;
- Playground or other supervision duties (where appropriate);
- Co-curricular activities;
- Meetings and assemblies;
- Behaviour management;
- Job share arrangements;
- Maintenance and cleaning of school property; and/or
- Any other matter which are considered elements of the substantive role undertaken.
Other matters that may need to be considered when returning to work include:
- The number of days per week, hours worked per day, including necessary rest breaks;
- Ergonomics and geography of the work area. For example, what is the workspace like? Are the furnishings supportive? Are there stairs? Are there inclines? Is it far to their car?;
- Lifting heavy objects;
- Repetitive tasks;
- Composition of classes (i.e. number of high need students, certain students or certain combinations of students);
- Level of classroom support provided;
- Protocols to follow should an issue arise in the classroom that exacerbates your medical condition;
- Interactions with other staff;
- Line management and reporting;
- The level of support our union can provide;
- Access to counselling;
- Nominating a person on staff to provide pastoral and/or professional support; and/or
- Mediation if interpersonal difficulties arise in returning to work.
A school officer member who usually worked as a teacher aide in a prep classroom suffered from a hip and shoulder injury when she had a fall at home on a weekend and was hospitalised. No surgery was needed; however, the member was required to remain off work for two weeks and rest. The member’s doctor suggested a graduated return and to not undertake any duties that would require lifting more than five kilograms, no “abovethe-shoulder” work and no long periods of standing (30 minutes or more). This meant that alternative duties had to be considered.
The Principal asked for the member to talk to the doctor about working in reception for the period of graduated return to see if this would be suitable. Our member provided details of the duties to the doctor which was accepted, with the proviso that the original restrictions be adhered to. The doctor then deemed our member fully fit to return to their usual duties.
With our union’s support and guidance, the member knew the right questions to ask, and was made aware of their rights to reasonable adjustment after a period of sick leave. It is crucial that school officers consider raising any concerns with their doctor before commencing a return to work after a medical absence.
If members are having difficulty negotiating a medical return to work with their employer, whether in relation to a work-related or personal condition, FREECALL 1800 177 937 for advice and assistance.
This article was extracted from the November 2016 edition of Independent Voice.