Employee sickness absence creates huge problems for companies. Whether employees are off sick short or long term, companies don't know for how long, or if they are ever coming back. GP sick notes last a specified period but then another is issued, often with a woolly description of the problem. Important questions require full, accurate answers to manage the situation in a legally sound way - which is satisfactory to the employee, the human resource manager, the employee's departmental manager, other managers and also colleagues and worker representatives.
OH3's comprehensive medical assessment and report answers these questions in a way which meets all the needs of employer and employee, enhancing the partnership between the two, caring for and supporting the employee whilst allowing managers to manage.
The assessment covers issues such as;
- What is the diagnosis, severity and prognosis?
- When, if ever, will the employee be fit to return to normal duties and be able to give full effective service?
- Would recouperative duties be helpful to maximise the chances of a successful, sustained or earlier return to work and for how long?
- Is this person's condition likely to be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act?
- If so, what adjustments to the hours, duties or working environment, if any, would be medically required or desirable to enable this employee to continue in the role (note-it is up to the company to decide whether or not it can accommodate these 'reasonably')
- Are there any other supportive measures the company could consider which may help the employee eg physiothery, counselling, problem at work?
- Was this problem caused or exacerbated by work?
- Frequent and/or short-term absences only?
- Is there any underlying medical reason for these absences?
- Are you able to advise on any measures which may improve this employee's level of absence?
- What will the likely level of absence be in the future in relation to this, or any other relevant condition?
The commonest medical causes of longer-term employee absences are;
Short-term absences, if genuine, are normally caused by self-limiting viral illnesses such as
Problem Case 1
A typical case which ended badly, involved one chap returning to work after a hernia repair after being told he was fit normal activities by his surgeon and his GP - promptly re-injuring his hernia lifting 25kg four days after his return.
After a long absence or operation or serious condition, employees wishing to return to work quite often phone their manager or sometimes even perhaps leave a message with the receptionist or on the answerphone. You as their manager do not know if they are properly fit for heavy lifting after their back injury, or for stressful work after a depressive illness, and are concerned about your duty of care under the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1998 to do an adequate risk assessment. It is not enough to rely on their GP signing them fit for work because of two reasons -
- GPs commonly do not sign people as 'fit'. If a sick note simply 'runs out' on a certain day, the employee can simply elect to come back of their own accord and its very unlikely the GP would ever know about it.
- Even if they do seek the GPs advice, the GP does not know the workplace so it's no defence for you to use the GP if the employee injures himself because he wasn't fully fit. The court may well decide you should have risk assessed the employee's condition and work tasks more carefully.
Problem Case 2
A 53 year returns to work after a six month absence describing workload and system changes as the cause, as well as one or two problems at home with family illnesses.
You are rightly concerned over a number of issues -
- Is she fit to withstand the rigors of this particular department, which has indeed had a lot of unusual problems to deal with lately due to staff shortages?
- Does she require a phase-in period or restricted duties initially?
- Will she be able to give full effective service, and when?
- Can you provide her with a safe working environment as required by law?
- What was the real cause or causes? If genuinely work-related, what would the courts expect now needs to be done to protect her and others going forward?
Request a 'Return to Work' medical and report to identify their fitness for work and any restrictions or recuperative duties required. These are normally up to a maximum of 4-6 weeks. Longer-term restrictions are not common, unless they are considered to be a 'reasonable adjustment' under the DDA Act 1995.