forced to see occupational health

My employer is forcing me to see Occupational Health

My employer is forcing me to see Occupational Health

What should you do if your employer is forcing you to see Occupational Health?

If you have told your employer that you need to take time off due to sickness or disability or if you are asking for reasonable adjustments your employer is entitled to up to date medical information about you. 

Check your contract/terms of employment

You might be obliged by the terms and conditions of your employment to see Occupational Health (OH) so that is the first thing to check. It might be in your contract as a specific term – it will say that you consent to seeing a medical professional at the request of the company. If there is no specific term in your contract then you should also check the Employee Handbook or intranet – wherever you are signposted for the “rules” of your workplace. That will likely oblige you to see OH in case of illness.

Even if there is no express term in your contractual arrangements your employer may be able to say that asking you to see the company doctor/nurse/OH is a reasonable management order. There is an implied term in every employment contract that you must obey a reasonable management order failing which your employer may be able to discipline you.

But why should I see Occupational Health

Most employees feel very uneasy about seeing OH. I get that. It is no fun at all to share intimate and sensitive medical information with a total stranger but remember this:

  • OH professionals are first and foremost medical professionals. Their duty is to the patient. They cannot tell your employer anything without your consent. 
  • It could help your issue at work for your employer to know that you have a medical need for certain working conditions so it could help you to see OH.
  • What OH is not entitled to do is quiz you about any workplace dispute such as an issue with a manager. If they get into this territory it is OK to tell them that you are attending a medical appointment and do not wish to discuss this. 
  • Likewise if they are sounding you out about your ability to return to work because you are off sick. Their job is to assess you medically. 
  • If you are too unwell to attend, ask your GP or treating consultant to write to your employer confirming this so that there can be no suggestion that you are not cooperating. 
  • Remember that the case law shows that Employment Tribunals can be harsh on employees who have failed to engage with OH so it may be in your interests to attend an assessment even if it is going to be difficult. 
  • You can ask for reasonable adjustments to the OH process, for example, meeting by video or phone rather than in person or taking a friend or family member to the appointment with you so that you have support. 

Sadly some employers can and do use OH to harass employees

Unfortunately we know from experience that poor employers can use OH as a weapon to harass and intimidate employees who are off sick. 

A good example would be where there has already been medical information sent to an employer by a treating hospital consultant which confirms that the employee needs at least 3 months off work. Then the employer wants to assess reasonable adjustments and work return arrangements ASAP. There is no justification for an OH referral so early in the process and it is OK to push back asking what the justification is when medical information has already been provided. Ideally if you get into a situation such as this you should take early legal advice. 

I remember a case many years back where a well-known employer was insisting that my client shared her entire medical history dating back to birth with her employer. We said no. You can have the information pertaining to the current absence and condition but that is all. There is no reason for someone to have to share information to this extent and such conduct is plainly unreasonable.

This blog was written by Karen Jackson, Solicitor. Founder-MD of didlaw. Karen has also contributed to Occupational Health law books and journals given her expertise in disability discrimination.