Sickness absence and European sick certificates

Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 1 December 2017
Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors
Issues covered:

Q. The second most popular language in Northern Ireland is Polish. So we get a lot of people from Eastern Europe and such like and some get sick. So this listener here has said they've got an employee who's gone back to their home country but their sick cert maybe comes from a doctor in Poland or Lithuania or whatever.

Can you refuse, as an employer, to take that? Must you take the local (i.e. outside the UK) certificate? Do you have the power to say to the person that you've got to come back to our occupational health to be assessed?

Seamus: To be assessed? Well, I think a couple of concerns there in relation to that you may have a policy and procedure that says that, but there could be a risk that the policy might be discriminatory. The first thing is someone might be unwell. They might have had surgery, or they might have been told by their doctor that they should be in a period of convalescence and they might return home to be with their family, where they will get comfort and they'll get support.

And when they do that, it's obvious they're not going to be in position to attend their local doctor, and I think to refuse a sick line from a doctor outside this jurisdiction would be problematic for the employer.

Scott: It's not even sensible, because if you're isolated and you're feeling sick and horrible and you're sitting in a bedsit in Belfast or something, as opposed to being back home where your family is around you to support you and make you soup…

Seamus: Yes.

Scott: Then you're going to get better quicker, you know?

Seamus: Yeah, that's it. And I think the reality is that there might be . . . I can understand there maybe being some concern by the employer of maybe getting a sick line that they're not familiar with, maybe not in English. But certainly I mean there's ways that they can deal with that. You know they can take steps to verify the sick line. They can make a telephone call to the doctor's surgery wherever the person is and verify it that way. They could go online to make sure that it is coming from a surgery and things like that. I'm sure that the doctor's details are available online as well.

So they really do need to be careful about saying that we only accept sick lines from here. It's not going to be practical all the time. And again, I think that question about whether you would have to come back to Northern Ireland to undergo occupational health. That, for me, is a difficulty as well for the employer. I think that you would have to have a very specific circumstance, where maybe there is a specialist doctor within this jurisdiction that deals with what the ailment is of the employee. But I would say that is very exceptional, and otherwise I think it's practical and it's reasonable for the employer to source an occupational health doctor in the person's home country where they're at.

Scott: And there's a good chance that your own occupational health provider will have somebody in another country.

Seamus: Yeah, and maybe make a recommendation for you or something on those lines, absolutely. And there's no reason either that if you get a report that it can't be translated or the report can be provided in English as well. So, yeah, the big flag there would be this kind of race discrimination would raise its head by the employee if they felt that they weren't be treated . . .

Scott: Of course, there's no limit on race discrimination claims if the employee decides to take one.

Seamus: Exactly.

Scott: And it's gone against you.

Seamus: Yeah.


This article is correct at 01/12/2017

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Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

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