Dealing with conflicting GP and OH advice on employee's fitness to work

Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 25 September 2017
Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors
Issues covered:

Q. We are currently considering dismissing an employee who’s absent from work on claims of ill health. However, we have received conflicting medical advice in relation to his absence. His GP says he is not fit to return to work, however the company doctor has said he is fit to return to work but has suggested we obtain a psychiatric report. How do we handle it?

Seamus: In my view, there are various types of medical evidence that can be obtained. Sometimes the GP notes and records are obtained in addition to getting a GP report. But here, we have conflicting evidence is the bud of the issue, really, with the GP saying he’s not fit to return and we have the independent occupational health saying that he is.

With the GP report, sometimes I find, and it’s no criticism of general practitioners, but sometimes what happens with the GP is they receive the request for a report. They get in contact with the employee and the employee comes in to see them. Often I find you can just get a verbatim report of what the employee has told the general practitioner. Sometimes it can lack a bit of detail and a true opinion.

Occupational health, I find, are independent. As a practitioner in the legal system, we will get good and bad occupational health reports. That’s the reality of it. You have to take it as you find it. It’s interesting on this one that the occupational health doctor is suggesting a further psychiatric report, which is similar to what we talked about there and seeking a further specialist report would be important. They are talking about looking at dismissing the employee, so it’s important they do obtain that psychiatric report.

For me, when it comes down to instructing GPs or the more specialist medical reports, it’s important to give direction and instruction to the doctor. You have to tell the doctor what it is that you’re looking...what is the information that you’re seeking from the appointment or from the report. Sometimes it makes it too easy just to say we need a report and the employee has started on this job and has been absent for so long.

I think it’s always helpful to give more detail. You have to be careful about your letter that you do provide to the GP and make sure that it is fair because, under data protection, the employee could also seek to obtain a copy of that letter that went from the employer instructing the occupational health and the GP.

It should be fair and balanced, but it should also make sure you’re getting answers to the questions you need to know and then that way, you tend to secure a much better improved report that will really help you along the way. But certainly in this one, before you make any decisions about dismissing or anything else, you need to have your medical evidence in place.


This article is correct at 25/09/2017

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Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

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