“The general approach would be that the employer would be regularly assessing the capabilities of staff and as soon as there is information that suggests someone is not fit for work, an employer would then refer that person for further assessment by a medical practitioner for an opinion on whether a person can still work.”
The employer could request multiple assessments to verify the person’s health, but if the employee is consistently shown to be fit for work.
Ms Rey said it was wise for employers to consider alterative options for employees with ill health.
“An employer might want to consider whether there are some adjustments to the job that would accommodate the person.”
Could the Germanwings crash have happened in Australia?
Ron Bartsch, who is chairman of leading consulting firm to the aviation industry, Avlaw, said he believed the Germanwings crash “would have been handled differently in Australia” citing strict safety standards in the country.
Health and mental checks and assessments of pilots in the aviation industry were “very stringent”, with commercial pilots being testing by medical practitioners at least once a year, under requirements of the Civil aviation act 1988, he said.
The medical assessors were appointed by a chief medical examiner within the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the regulator had oversight over ensuring standards, which were mostly based on universal aviation standards.
Similar to most other cases, pilots only had to prove they were fit to perform their role as a pilot. So they didn’t need to disclose how much alcohol they drink regularly, but prove they had not consumed alcohol in the 12 hours before flying.
Mental illness was considered on a case by case basis. Mr Bartsch was aware of pilots who were depressed after a marriage breakdown, and referred for a further medical assessment, but deemed fit to work. Severe illness, found to have potential to cause harm to others, would not pass the test.
He said Australia had “prided itself” on a high level of safety due to an affective regulatory body in CASA, the body’s drug and alcohol management program, and that airlines go beyond the law to ensure pilots are fit when they are recruited by administering rigorous psychometric tests.
“The degree of psychometric testing of the airlines and the extent of the evaluation at the time of employment goes beyond the international standards and is not legally required.”
Top tips for managers
Workplace experts have three top tips for managing staff who appear to have a mental illness:
- Be clear about a worker’s job description and with any questions about someone’s capacity to perform their role, or in assessing whether they are able to do their job.
- Have employee assistance programs and health and wellbeing programs that promote a culture where employees can openly talk about mental health.
- Senior executives revealing their own personal struggles with mental illness promotes transparency.