Category Archives: long term absence

Understanding The Access to Medical Records Act

In sickness absence management it is important that employers investigate the situation fully which will include gaining access to medical records.  In the majority of cases this will be so they can provide support to the employee to enable them to return to work, possibly with reasonable adjustments if they are classed as disabled under the Equality Act.  In other cases, it may be to consider ill health termination or disciplinary action if the employee has not been truthful with regards the reasons behind their absence.

The Access to Medical Records Act allows an employer to gain access to those medical records with the full permission of the employee.  If an employer has a situation where the employee refuses to comply with such a request, then they must make a decision on their ongoing employment based purely on the information to hand.  If an employee has high sickness absence and refuses to allow access to their medical records then a possible outcome could be dismissal.

An employer can use a medical professional to gain a report on the employee’s medical condition and its long term prognosis, to find out whether they are classed as disabled and may need reasonable adjustments for example.   Whilst the employee’s GP can be approached, they will be only interested in the best interests of their patient and the information they may provide may be lacking for the employer.  An occupational health advisor, on the other hand, will work in the best interests of the employer and provide a well rounded report so the employer can take action.

The employee should provide written consent to a report being produced on their medical condition and agree to a possible medical examination.  The process should be open and transparent with the employee fully involved.  They have the right to see the report before it is provided to the employer and have 21 days to so.  They can amend the report if they do  not agree with certain aspects that could be misleading or are incorrect.  If the medical professional refuses to amend the report the employee can withdraw consent that the report is provided to the employer or may add their own written explanation to be attached to the report.


New Government Sickness Absence Support Service – The Benefits of Occupational Health

The government has recently announced the implementation of a new independent assessment and advisory service to get long term sick employees back to work.  In effect this will be a government run occupational health service.
It has long been recognised that employees who go off sick for longer than four weeks can end up being off work for a huge length of time; occupational health can help manage the situation providing much needed advice and a defence to employers should ultimately they be faced with a possible employment tribunal if the employee is dismissed. 
In my work as an HR consultant, I have always recommended to my clients that when they receive a fit note that indicates the employee requires more than two weeks off sick that they seek occupational health support asap with the agreement of the employee.  The quicker the situation is dealt with in this manner the quicker the employee can be brought back to work in my experience. The worst thing to do is to ignore the problem as it will only escalate.
The first step would be to set up a meeting with the employee which could be in their home, in the company office or in a neutral venue.  They should have the opportunity to be accompanied and should they choose a family member or friend, this should not be discouraged.  They may feel they need that extra support if they are truly experiencing difficulties.
The employee should cooperate with the company requirements to find out more information about their health with the support of occupational health.  If the employee refuses to sign the consent form required under the Access to Medical Records Act 1988 that will allow the occupational health advisor to contact their GP then they need to be made clearly aware that their persistent absence could result in their termination.  Employers should beware of conducting hasty terminations in such circumstances and should wait until sick pay has been exhausted otherwise could be faced with a breach of contract claim.
Occupational health can be used to determine whether the employee is covered by the Equality Act 2010 in terms of disability and whether any reasonable adjustments need to be made.   They can provide an assessment on the prognosis of the likelihood of return to work perhaps recommending a phased return.  They will produce a written report, that is shared with the employee, which will provide the basis of a next meeting with the employee with a view to getting them back to work.

Their service can also be invaluable with cases of intermittent absences eg Monday/Friday syndrome.  They can help decide whether an employee is “swinging the lead” or may have a genuine underlying problem. 

An independent occupational health advisor is more preferable than an employer contacting an employee’s GP with their agreement.  Whereas occupational health will act in the interests of the employer, the GP will act only in the interests of their patient; the GP might not be forthcoming with information requested of them.
According to the government only 50% of large companies and 10% of small companies have access to an occupational health service, however, there are many independent occupational health advisors in the UK who provide an excellent service to help employers with managing difficult sickness absence cases. Many HR consultants work closely with preferred occupational health providers who they trust.  For a minimal cost their services are invaluable compared to managing a costly employment tribunal case due to badly managed sickness absence. Employers can terminate employees who have been experiencing severe sickness absence under capability, but the process must be managed fairly and legally.

If you need advice on sickness absence issues call Sandra Beale on 07762 771290.

Managing Sickness Absence

The first Monday in February is unofficially known as “National Sickie Day” as it is the day employees are most likely to call in sick.  The reasons being the freezing cold days, travelling to work and home in the dark and the summer holiday in the very distant future.  It is estimated that this year 400,000 employees will have done so costing the UK economy £43m.
Every year sickness absence costs £700 per employee in the UK. Given the state of the economy businesses can not afford to put up with employees consisting calling in sick so managing sickness absence is very important.  Absence is a financial cost to the business as well as a cost to motivation and morale of the workforce.
There are two types of absence that need to be dealt with using a fair procedure.
For frequent intermittent absence where an employee phones in on a regular basis with indiscriminate illnesses, employers need to track what is happening to look for any trends such as the Monday/Friday syndrome or an employee being sick at particular times.  Armed with the information the employer then needs to discuss the situation with the employee to find out what is causing the absence, using an occupational health referral as required.  The employer needs to stress an improvement is required and then if that does not happen move onto use of the disciplinary process if appropriate.  If a disability has come to light during medical investigation then reasonable adjustments are essential.
For long term absence where an employee has a serious medical condition then regular meetings are essential with an occupational health referral for advice on how to manage the situation.  Long term if the employee is unable to return to work then an ill health termination must be considered.