MEDICAL REPORTS – DO THEY HELP EMPLOYERS?
In our experience, usually but not always…
The time to obtain a medical report is when dealing with employees who are on long term sick, or when an employee announces that they have a medical condition/disability. In this situation employers need to obtain a medical report in order to assist in making good and informed decisions.
The key areas when this occurs is when you need to assess:
An employee’s ability to do the job;
When making reasonable adjustments is appropriate; and
Where continued employment (dismissal on capability grounds) is under consideration.
What are employee’s rights?
Employees have a right to access (in accordance with the provisions of the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988) any medical report relating to them, which is to be, or has been, supplied to their employer by a medical practitioner who is responsible for their healthcare.The Employee’s General Practitioner (GP) or Specialist will not provide a report to the employer unless the employee/patient has given consent. Consequently, before you can obtain a medical report from your employee’s doctor, the employer will need to obtain the employee’s consent.
Under the legislation you have a duty to tell the employee of his or her rights under the Act in relation to requesting a medical report. In summary these are:
The employee must be notified by the employer of their request for a report.
The employee has the right to withhold consent from the employer to make such a request to the medical practitioner.
When consent is granted, the employee has a right to see any report before the medical practitioner sends it to the employer.
When the employee has exercised his or her right to see the report, it shall not be sent to the employer without the employee’s permission.
Having seen the report, the employee may request the medical practitioner make changes to any part of the report, which they believe to be incorrect or misleading, or may attach to the report a statement of their views in respect of any part of the report the practitioner declines to so amend.
What you need to do
To prove that the employer has told the employee of the above rights, the best approach is to write or include the content as part of a Consent Form. The employee would sign this so evidencing they have been advised of their rights and given consent. A template consent form is available to Sentient members in the members’ area of the website.
It is worth noting that even if the employee gives consent, a doctor can refuse to disclose the contents of the report if they consider it would be likely to cause serious harm to the physical or mental health of the employee.
It is in the employers best interests to get the most useful report possible from the doctor. To do this, when sending the consent letter it is important to set the scene by including sufficient detail of the job duties, tasks, work environment etc. (inc. job description) such that the doctor can form an accurate opinion of the impact the employees illness, injury or condition has and vice versa. At the same time it is important to ask specific questions to illicit the information needed in order to gain the best understanding of the employee’s situation.
If the employee declines to give consent, then that is his or her right and the employee should not be subject to any detriment as a consequence.
Using the Report
The content should assist when making decisions about actions that might encourage an early or phased return to work; whether reasonable adjustments should be considered; how long a job can be held open or the last resort, at what point is it fair and reasonable to terminate employment.
We will cover the general process of dealing with capability termination in more detail in a future ‘update’ but for now you should exercise caution if dismissal is being contemplated.
Difficulties and Alternatives
Obtaining a GP’s report can be time consuming and it is not unusual for this to take up to 6-8 weeks and if the questions have not been asked the content may not address the issues that are of concern to you. Then there is associated costs; these can vary but experience shows them to range typically in the £60-£100 price bracket.
One quicker but usually more expensive option is to make arrangements for the employee to attend an Occupational Physician for an occupational medical report. To do this you must have the right to do this written into the Contract of Employment.
At all times, when dealing with employees on long term sick or with disabilities and considering reasonable adjustments, specialist advice should be sought from Sentient.