Here at The Occupational Health Business Ltd I have always wondered why it is that some HR professionals and managers still write to GPs for information regarding an employee’s absence and capability, rather than ask occupational health for a report. Writing to a GP rarely provides any useful advice on capability as few GPs have any useful knowledge of the workplace. The request generally lengthens the management of the absence, promotes the employee’s view and is always expensive.
Here are 5 key points to implement in your business…..
1. GP Reports.
In my experience, non-medical people writing for a GP report are mostly wasting their time as the report will only tell you what you know already through your conversations with the employee. Yes, I know that seeking further medical evidence is advised in your 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’
Yes, the GP report may advise you of an employee’s diagnosis and maybe what medication they have been prescribed. Can you then make an assessment of capability and fitness for work armed only with this information? Can you really make a robust evidence based judgement on what work capability an employee has from a medical diagnosis? Would this satisfy a tribunal?
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. The absence becomes medicalised and the employee soon turns into a patient who believes that returning to work will be detrimental to their health. Occupational health clinicians can offer support and guidance on fitness for work as they are trained and competent in law to do so.
2. Reasonable adjustments
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. Identifying what your obligations are in terms of disability legislation can be complex and the tribunals are busy with cases where employers have looked at what the employee can’t do, rather than what they can. 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. Most of us will suffer from some medical condition from time to time and occupational health clinicians can advise on a range of adjustments which will ensure that at any one time you are getting the maximum amount of productivity out of your workforce.
3. Sensitive Data
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 should be restricted and it should also be password protected if stored electronically. Writing for GP reports and storing in personnel records poses an additional responsibility under this legislation and employers must ensure policies to manage this are in place which can be an administrative burden.
4. Changes to sick notes
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 and must refer all long term sickness cases over 28 days to occupational health, 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 not depending on how the employee/GP advise you to do so. If you seek the opinion of an Occupational Health professional, you are entitled to take that opinion over that of the GP and this has been tested in case law.
5. Costs of OH
Occupational health services can be accessed free of charge, so why aren’t they used more? Also, the costs of many health screening and health at work services can be offset against tax. Many insurers are now encouraging employers to put an occupational health service in place and premiums can be reduced if workplace risks are managed. Overall, OH services will pay for themselves in providing proactive advice to minimise absences and advise managers on how to manage the health of the workforce effectively.
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