Advice

Managing Medical Incapacity

Managing a medical incapacity situation with your employee can feel overwhelming and complex. However, with the right approach and knowledge of your obligations as an employer, you can make the process smoother for everyone involved.

Here are our tips for managing a medical incapacity situation with your employee:

Regularly Communicate with your employee

Open and clear communication is key to successful management of any incapacity situation. Talk to your employee about their condition and its effect on their work. You may also need to discuss any necessary adjustments to their duties or work environment to support their recovery.

Maintain confidentiality

It is important to maintain confidentiality throughout the incapacity process. All medical information should be kept confidential and only shared with relevant parties, such as management, and any medical professionals involved in the employee’s care.

Gather information

Be sure to gather information about your employee’s medical condition, such as a doctor’s report or medical certificate. This information can help you determine the best course of action for supporting your employee in their recovery, or deciding whether you can continue to hold the employee’s role open for them. We have a template letter for this, ‘Letter to Medical Professional’. Free for members of Retail NZ, $75 + GST for non-members. 

Determine if there are any reasonable accommodations you could make

Under the Human Rights Act 1993, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with a disability or health condition. This may mean making adjustments to your workplace, such as providing assistive technology or flexible work arrangements to support your employee in their recovery and return to work.

Consider whether you need to develop a return-to-work plan

A return-to-work plan outlines the steps your employee needs to take to return to their pre-incapacity work level. It is not only helpful for your employee, but also for your business in managing the employee’s return to work. Be sure to involve your employee in the development of the plan and consider any necessary adjustments to their work duties or environment to support their recovery.

Consider how long you are able to keep your employees’ role open for

This decision is reliant upon many factors but is generally governed by the medical incapacity clause in the employee’s individual employment agreement.Where there is no length stated, it would be dependent on:

  • The terms of the employment agreement or relevant workplace policies.
  • The employee’s entitlement to sick leave.
  • The likely time it will take the employee to return to work as dictated by their medical certificate, or other supplied medical information.
  • How important the employee’s role is to your organisation. Consider the size of your business, whether you have been able to manage for long periods of time without the employee, or you’ve had to bring in someone else to do the job, and what the financial impacts of the employee’s absence are on your business.
  • If there are alternative duties available for the employee to do or if they can work reduced hours. 

Seek professional advice if necessary

If you are uncertain about how to proceed with managing a medical incapacity situation, or if you have come to an impasse with your employee, make sure you get in touch with our Advice Service. They can provide guidance on your obligations and help you navigate the entire process.

For a more detailed step-by-step guide to managing a situation of medical incapacity, including your obligations for managing employees on ACC, download our guide here. Free for Retail NZ members, $200 + GST for non-members.


Did you know that as a member of Retail NZ, you get access to our full library of resources, plus unlimited access to our Advice Service, which can guide you through this process, ensuring you meet all of your obligations. Check out our other member benefits, and how to join here.

If you have any questions or would like help managing medical incapacity, get in touch with our Advice Service on 0800 472 472 (1800 128 086 from Australia) or email [email protected].

Updated January 2024.

Our Supporters

OUR STRATEGIC PARTNERS

Would you like one of our team to give you a call? Let us know and we will get back to you.