Many people with Parkinson’s are working and will continue to work for a considerable amount of time. Some of the most emotional and critical issues facing people with Parkinson’s relate to work and financial security.
Depending on the nature of the work, mild symptoms such as a slight tremor in the non-dominant hand may not affect employment at all.
Given that our sense of identity and self-esteem is often strongly associated with our work role and ability to produce an income, many people with Parkinson’s decide to remain in the workforce for as long as practical.
There are a number of issues to consider and strategies that a person living with Parkinson’s can adopt in order to maximise their ability to work safely and productively.
It is recommended that people with Parkinson’s seek professional advice about employment, superannuation, and insurance rights and options before making any major decisions.
The section covers:
- Legal requirements
- Workplace responsibilities
- Workplace modifications that can be requested
- Attending medical appointments and sick leave
- Appeals and complaints
- Starting work
- Finishing work
- Support for you
You need to decide if you are going to disclose to your employer that you have Parkinson’s or not. You are not legally required to disclose unless there is an Occupational Health and Safety reason to do so. For example, if your role involved driving a truck or a forklift, you may legally need to disclose your diagnosis. Other than disclosure for safety reasons, there are usually no other legal requirements.
Choosing to disclose or not often feels like a big decision as no two employers are the same. Having a confidential discussion with an employer is often worthwhile as it provides them with an opportunity to be supportive. You can also explain any problems that you may have performing your work and discuss modifications to your job or workplace to ensure you remain productive and safe.
Although many employers are supportive and happy to be flexible, it is not always the case. If you do choose to disclose it is important to prepare for the conversation with your employer. Be professional and specific, offer solutions and reassurance and aim to educate your manager regarding Parkinson’s.
Under the Fair Work Act, 2009, employers are under a positive obligation to take reasonable steps to accommodate someone with a disability in the workplace. This Act covers people with Parkinson’s.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against someone with a disability in the workplace unless there are exceptional circumstances.
An employer cannot force a person to see their doctor or sign authorities to obtain reports from your doctors. There are some exceptions to this such as Workers Compensation claims.
Workplace modifications that can be requested
Employers must take reasonable steps to accommodate an employee with Parkinson’s. This may take the form of:
- Changing your workstation by providing a supported chair or making computer adaptations
- Improving air-conditioning
- Moving to the ground floor
- Allowing you to take time off work to get medical treatment
- Changing your work duties such as the removal of tasks requiring fine motor skills or heavy lifting
- Allowing you to work part time
- Scheduling regular breaks
- Allowing you some flexibility to work from home
Talk to your workplace health and safety officer or human resources staff to find out what can be done to enable you to stay in the workplace safely and productively.
Attending medical appointments and sick leave
All employees have a contracted number of sick days per year under their Award, Enterprise Agreement or individual contract – unless they are employed casually. If you need to take additional time off to go to a reasonable number of medical appointments, your employer will often agree if you offer to take time without pay. Family members are also entitled to take leave to attend appointments with you.
Appeals and complaints
If you are discriminated against in the workplace or unfairly dismissed, you may have the right to appeal to a court or tribunal.
If your superannuation or insurance claim is rejected, you can appeal to the courts, to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal or to an insurance complaints scheme.
Visit Work Welfare Wills to find out more about your entitlements and the appeals process.
If you are looking for a job you may be wondering about how much you should tell a possible employer about your condition. Many employers ask job applicants to complete health questionnaires or undergo a medical check-up.
If you are applying for a job, you do not have to tell an employer about your Parkinson’s unless it’s relevant to the job or is an Occupational Health and Safety risk (OH&S).
If you are considering finishing work, get legal and/or financial advice before you do so.
You may be eligible for employment benefits such as payment of accrued leave or redundancy payments. More importantly, you may also be eligible for superannuation or disability insurance benefits.
Did you know if you stop work because of your Parkinson’s, you might be able to claim a disability lump sum or pension under your superannuation fund? Most super funds are legally required to take out disability insurance to cover their members, which is called ‘default cover’.
You may consider this if your symptoms progress or if you’ve been dismissed from your role for other reasons, such as JobKeeper ending. If you reduce your hours or terminate your employment, it might affect your right to claim so seek advice before making any decision.
If you are unable to work because of Parkinson’s you might also have insurance policies you can claim on, such as income protection, trauma, life insurance or mortgage protection and consumer credit insurance. However, with some employer income protection policies, leaving work may affect your right to claim in the future.
Check your insurance policy or contact the insurance company directly to find out what you are entitled to.
Some people with Parkinson’s may start thinking about giving up work completely before reaching state retirement age. They feel that working with Parkinson’s is becoming too difficult and/or want to concentrate on other aspects of their life.
Seek professional advice to plan your retirement process.
Support for you
- Seeking professional advice on these issues is essential
- There are a number of specialists who can assist with information, advice and representation for people with Parkinson’s
- A number of law firms offer a free Superannuation and Insurance Advice Service that provides legal advice to people with Parkinson’s
- Call the Fight Parkinson’s Information Line on 1800 644 189
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org