Home' HR Monthly : April 2019 Contents April 2019 HRM magazine 35
numbers of stress
and sexual assault.”
ragic stories involving fly-in fly-out
(FIFO) workers, including recent suicides,
have raised questions about what can be
done and what responsibilities employers have
towards such workers.
In January, the ABC reported a spate of
suicides in the Pilbara region of Western
Australia. Anecdotally, we know employers
are seeing increasing numbers of stress claims,
including more ex treme claims involving
attempted suicide and sexual assault, some
of which have the potential to be regarded as
Workplace stress can give rise to work-related
injuries and may lead to protracted and costly
legal action such as:
• WorkCover applications seeking statutory
• Common law actions seeking damages (for
example, staff claiming that their injury was
caused by their employer’s negligence); and
• Adverse action claims.
The fatigue caused by working what can
sometimes be punishing FIFO rosters is a
known health and safety risk.
A recent matter we were involved in showed
how employers can (sometimes inadvertently)
worsen an employee’s stress levels. A FIFO
worker on a demanding roster had attempted
suicide. On returning to work after one week’s
rest, he was handed what he regarded as an
even tougher roster than he previously had.
The employer then gave him a choice: work the
roster or leave.
Such approaches make it difficult for
employers to prove they've taken reasonable
steps to accommodate stressed workers.
Recent tragedies have put the
spotlight on FIFO workers'
vulnerability to stress, and on what
employers should be doing about it.
BY KYLIE GROVES, PARTNER & STEPHANIE DRISCOLL,
SPECIAL COUNSEL, HALL & WILCOX
Have an HR question? Access our online
AHRI:ASSIST resource for HR guidelines,
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Here are some of the key issues employers
Communication: Where employers are aware
that a FIFO worker is struggling with mental
illness exacerbated by their roster, they should
consult and communicate with the employee,
rehabilitation providers and medical experts,
and the union (if involved). Where applicable,
employers may also need to notify their insurer.
Understanding the illness or injury:
Employers have a duty of care to ensure an
employee's health and safety, and that of their
colleagues. It’s not unreasonable to ask for more
information about the medical condition an
employee is suffering from. Understanding the
true nature of the illness or injury is not just
about covering yourself, it’s about providing a
best way forward for all parties.
Respecting privacy and confidentiality:
FIFO workers in particular worry about the
stigma that may result from stress claims.
They fear it will follow them if they change roles,
but stay in the industry. If an employer is aware
an employee is suffering from a stress-related
issue, then respecting the employee’s privacy
and confidentiality is important. Employers
must consider their record-keeping around stress
claims to ensure confidentiality. This must be
balanced against the responsibility to try to
reduce the stigma of stress conditions and to
educate the workforce about mental illness.
Exploring reasonable adjustments:
Are there any adjustments that can be made
to accommodate the employee? Rostering
has emerged as a key issue in stress claims
made by FIFO workers. Employers who try to
accommodate stressed employees by placing
them on a less intensive roster would be making a
If an adjustment is “reasonable” (which may
involve a cost benefit analysis), it should be made.
But if the adjustment imposes an unjustifiable
hardship on the employer, it need not be
made. For example, an interstate FIFO worker
requesting to work only Monday to Friday and to
retu rn home every weekend. •••
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