Here at The Occupational Health Business Ltd I have always wondered why it is that some HR professionals and managers, write to GPs rather than ask occupational health for a report to help them to manage absence.
In my opinion, this approach rarely provides any useful advice on capability, generally lengthens the management of the absence and can be expensive. Maybe it’s time to review your approach….or let me know why you are doing it?
1. In my experience, non-medical people writing for a GP report are mostly wasting their time. Yes, I know that seeking further medical evidence is advised in many management of absence procedures, but I do not believe writing to a GP will give you anything other than a report which states the employee’s perspective on their medical condition. Once that is written in a report, it can sometimes ‘stranglehold’ the employer into a corner it is difficult to get out of without being seen to be unreasonable.
‘If Mrs Jones could be given a job nearer to home with light duties and reduced hours, I am sure she would be able to return to work’
2. The GP report may advise you of an employee’s diagnosis, but can you really make a judgement on what work capability an employee has from a medical diagnosis? If for example they are diagnosed with bi polar or endometriosis, where does this leave you? Can you be absolutely sure that you are aware of all reasonable adjustments possible for these conditions?
Fitness for work is about capability and not disability and the majority of GPs do not have enough knowledge of the workplace and diseases of occupations to provide a report which can be used by employers to manage a case forward with confidence.
3. Reasonable adjustments are required if a condition may be likely to fall under the provision of the Equality Act 2010. This is however ultimately a legal and not a medical decision, but identifying what your obligations are in terms of disability legislation, can be complex and the tribunals are busy with cases where employers have not looked at what the employee can do, rather than what they can’t.
GP reports do not generally offer much helpful advice in this area and employers can easily fail to make simple adjustments just because they have not been given enough guidance on what can be done in the workplace to increase the capability, or ‘workability’ of employees with a medical condition.
4. How are you storing medical information? Data protection legislation places additional obligations on an employer to protect sensitive personal information. This is information about employee’s physical and mental health and therefore sickness records and sick notes count as sensitive personal information. This information should be stored separately from personnel records and access restricted. It should also be password protected if stored electronically.
Writing for GP reports and storing them poses an additional responsibility under this legislation and employers must ensure robust policies are in place which can be an administrative burden.
5. Have you made plans for the forthcoming changes to sick note provision? What will your strategy be when you can no longer write to GPs? As GPs will no longer be issuing sick notes, the advice on whether an employee is fit for work will rest with Occupational Health professionals.
Even now, if you have Occupational Health support, you do not have to take account of the advice in a Fit Note unless you want to, which means that you can manage the case according to the needs of your business. If you seek the opinion of an Occupational Health professional, you are entitled to take that opinion over that of the GP, which can still reflect the wishes of the employee.
Occupational health services can be accessed free of charge, so why aren’t they used more? Also, many health screening and health at work services can be offset against tax. Many insurers are now encouraging employers to put a service in place as premiums can be reduced if workplace risks are managed.
Could be time to take another look?
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