When to access medical reports for a long-term sick employee

Peter Done: Group Managing Director and Founder

September 14 2015

When am I legally allowed to ask for a medical report for an employee? I have a worker who has been off work with stress for three months and I wish to get in touch with the Doctor to look at the possibility of encouraging her to return to work. If an employee is absent from work for some time because of ill health, it is likely that, at some stage, you may wish to take some action against the employee because of the detrimental effect the absence is having on your operations.  It is essential in such cases to seek a doctor's opinion regarding the likelihood of the employee being able to return to work in the near future and dismissal action should only be taken if it appears that this is unlikely and that the employee's position must be filled. There is no legal timeframe dictating when medical records or reports should be considered, but it should certainly be no later than the point that it seems that the absence is likely to continue for some time; or alternatively, with sporadic absences in between periods of time when the employee is in work, when it seems that there be some measures you can put in place to enable a smoother return to work in the long run for the employee. You need the written authority of the employee to approach their doctor for a medical report and several rules apply to the process. The employee also has the right to see the report before it is sent to you, and you must inform the employee of this right. You must also inform the doctor if the employee wishes to see the report before it is sent to you. The employee may ask for the report to be amended before it is sent to you and may also withhold consent to its being supplied to you. It may assist if the assessment and report is carried out by an occupational health specialist rather than the employee’s own doctor for both reasons of impartiality and speed. If an employee exercises their right to withhold consent to you seeing the report, then your only option is to proceed without that vital information. What is clear in law is you are not expected to make a medical decision on the prognoses; you need to decide what is best for your business taking into consideration what is fair to the employee.

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