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Last updated: 25.08.2023

Your work can be adapted if you are partially disabled

Partial disability may be caused by an injury, illness, or the recovery required by a difficult situation in life. Partially disabled workers may still be able to work if their duties are appropriately adjusted or substituted.

An increasing number of workers stay working after their work ability has been reduced. Instead of taking sick leave, they are temporarily allowed adjusted or reduced duties. In the workplace, these measures are often a form of early support for work ability. This is particularly useful when workers return to work after a prolonged absence due to illness. Lighter duties may be a good solution for sudden illnesses as well. 

The following must be considered when evaluating whether a worker can work with a reduced work ability: 

  • All changes to sickness absence policy and work ability evaluation must be discussed in industrial cooperation, the occupational health and safety committee, or a similar forum for employer and worker cooperation. 
  • Any jobs other than the worker’s current job are at the worker’s discretion to accept with their reduced work ability and must be agreed upon separately in the workplace. They must be genuine substitutes (korvaava työ, substitutive or alternative work). 

We recommend that working with a reduced work ability be at the worker’s discretion even in the case of their current job. A positive attitude is vital for successful customer service in the service sector – a worker struggling with pain or nausea is not a boon for business! 

Many conditions limit working with a reduced work ability 

Working with a temporarily reduced work ability must always be approved by the occupational health physician. The occupational health physician must be sufficiently informed of the workplace’s conditions and the alternative duties available. The worker must be able to stop working if they feel weak, cannot perform their duties, or may cause hazardous situations. 

Working is never allowed if the worker’s general condition is weakened by a fever, flu, stomach trouble, etc. Alternative duties must be discussed in advance in industrial cooperation by listing tasks that can be done with an injured wrist, for example. 

The worker must be inducted in their alternative job and its safety measures, unless they are already familiar. The work must also be covered by the worker’s employment contract. The working conditions or terms of employment of the other workers in the workplace may not be undermined by the work of the worker with a reduced work ability.  

The employer is responsible for the costs of the work ability evaluation appointments (clinic fees, travel costs, and lost income) and follow-up appointments.  

The worker’s income may not be reduced because of them temporarily working with a reduced work ability. 

The commercial sector’s collective agreement and the pharmacies’ collective agreement include provisions for working with a reduced work ability. 

Physicians evaluate work ability 

As a rule, workers are entitled to sick leave if they are unable to work due to injury or illness. Employers are not competent to evaluate their worker’s work ability – if a worker feels ill, they must see their physician. 

After evaluating the worker’s work ability, the physician decides if the worker is fully incapable of working or if they could still work with certain restrictions (excluding standing and carrying heavy loads, for example).  

The medical certificate (lääkärinlausunto; in this case also “sick note”, meaning sairaustodistus, sairauslomatodistus) must state the period of inability to work until the worker can return to their normal duties. If the medical certificate states that the worker is fully incapable of work, the employer cannot order or ask the worker to work. If the worker and the employer mutually wish to continue the work with adjustments, the work’s safety must be evaluated separately by the physician.  

Read more about partial sickness absence and allowance

Employers are always responsible for health and safety 

A worker’s weakened health is a higher occupational health risk for their employer as well. Employers may wish to re-examine the worker’s work ability and require a second doctor’s appointment, typically with the occupational health physician. This appointment must be paid for by the employer. If the original and second medical certificate are in conflict with each other, the occupational health physician’s statement is considered more authoritative than a general practitioner’s statement regarding work ability. 

The employer may offer an alternative position at the workplace that meets the requirements set by the physician. Another alternative is sending the worker to a course or training related to their job. It is a bad idea to try to invent new positions for the workplace or transfer the worker to a position that they cannot competently manage. 

Even if the worker doubts their capacity to do the job offered by their employer, refusing the job may lead to trouble. The worker may at least have to try the work. If the work is unsuitable or the worker’s condition worsens, they must announce to the employer that they are incapable of the work. The employer may then require another evaluation. In all other cases workers are free to stay at home to rest and recover for the period indicated on the medical certificate. 

Employers are always responsible for ensuring their workers’ health and safety at work. 

See also 

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