Australia: Employee validly dismissed for failing to supply health information

Last Updated: 13 February 2015
Article by Mark Curran

Employees who fail to fully co-operate with their employer' s requests to supply information about their ability to perform their role may expose themselves to being dismissed, based on a recent decision of the Fair Work Commission in Columbine v The GEO Group Australia Pty Ltd [2014] FWC 6604.


Ms Nerolie Columbine ("the Plaintiff") was a correctional officer engaged by The GEO Group Australia Pty Ltd ("GEO"). In September of 2011, she suffered a second work related injury and was assigned suitable duties with GEO in a full-time administrative position. She worked in this position for two years. In March 2014, the Plaintiff was notified that the administrative position was going to expire and no additional positions were available in which she could work, given her medical limitations.

GEO informed the Plaintiff it was contemplating ending her employment on account of her inability to satisfy the inherent requirements of her correctional officer position. The Plaintiff was subsequently asked to supply GEO pertinent information it ought to consider before making its decision.

The Plaintiff advised GEO by email that she had received the all clear from her doctor to resume her pre-injury duties. Given the quick turnaround in her medical outlook, GEO requested a medical certificate signifying her suitability to execute the correctional officer role, a report about the sudden variation of her capacity in the opinion of the Paintiff's GP and an authority from the Plaintiff permitting direct correspondence between GEO and her GP.

The Plaintiff supplied both the medical certificate and a report, however failed to provide the authority, as requested by GEO. Given the Plaintiff's manifest unwillingness to comply with the requirements of GEO, it chose to terminate her employment.


Commissioner Bissett held the termination of the Plaintiff was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. The decision supports an obligation on employees to engage wholly with the reasonable requests of employers for information concerning their capacity to fulfil their duties.

In her reasoning, Commissioner Bissett considered the following:

  • Whilst the Plaintiff did tender a report, in the context of GEO striving to ascertain the reason for the sudden turnaround in her capacity, the absence of an opinion about this topic did little to assist GEO;
  • The Plaintiff's return to work needed to be controlled ensuring no risk to the Plaintiff, co-workers or prisoners of the Fulham Correctional Facility. GEO had an obligatory duty of care and it was appropriate to ensure it continued to uphold this duty. It was therefore salient an authority was not provided by the Plaintiff to contact her doctor;
  • The entirety of the Plaintiff's actions manifested a reluctance to participate with GEO in measures to address relevant health and safety concerns;
  • The Plaintiff was made aware of GEO's contemplation of terminating her employment and had ample and adequate time to respond.


Employers can be encouraged by this decision because it demonstrates that Courts and Commissions acknowledge the onerous obligations on employers to ensure the work, health and safety of employees. Employers can (and should ) confidently request medical information where there is doubt about an employee's ability to perform the role. Often, this will take the form of an independent medical report but sometimes, it is appropriate to obtain information from the employee's treating doctor.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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