Can occupational health overrule GP reports?

In this blog we discuss if an occupational health overrule GP inputs. 

We will also discuss what to do if there are conflicting reports from Occupational health and the GP and what powers does an occupational health specialist have. 

Can occupational health overrule GP reports?

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Yes, it is possible for an occupational health report to overrule that of a GP report.

According to Russell HR consulting, as of February 2022, an employer can give precedence to the reports of an occupational health practitioner over those of a GP based on the UK government recent changes in employment laws. 

This means that employers may be able to overrule a GP’s advice in a fit note as to whether or not a person is potentially fit to return to work, and instead take the advice of the Occupational health specialist over all. 

For example, an occupational health specialist that knows the work very well and has done an assessment for the workplace may be able to say that the employee is fit to work in some areas within the company and suggest changes and accommodations. 

However, in this case, if the employee refuses to come back to work on account of the GP fit note, the employer could listen to the specialist instead of the employee’s GP. 

The report of a GP is usually in the form of a fit note which refers to the note that has replaced the Sick note that is usually given to the employees after a GP assessment. 

This fit note is usually presented as evidence of the advice the doctor has given about the individual’s fitness for work that is unusually shared with the employer or the government for benefits. 

The Department of Work and Pensions, UK has made it clear that the fit note is not binging for employers and managers and the guidance from the UK government further describes that,

The assessment about whether your employee is not fit for work or may be fit for work (and any other advice in the fit note) is classed as advice, and it is for employers to determine whether or not to accept it. 

Occasionally, some of us may believe that our employee is not fit for work when they have been assessed as fit for work by their doctor, or we may think that our employee could do some work when they have been assessed as ‘not fit for work’ by their doctor.” (Gov.UK)

The guidance provided by the Government of the UK also goes on to mention that in a situation where there are differences between the reports of the GP versus that of an occupational health specialist, the employer can do the following:

  • “..Gather other evidence about your employee’s fitness for work from other doctors or healthcare professionals.” This means that the employer can seek a second opinion. 
  • The employer can take this new evidence from a second consultant and give it precedence over a fit note.

In the case that, even after a second opinion is obtained, the employee may disagree with the employer, they may need to demonstrate to an employment tribunal if the employee decided to take this to the tribunal. 

Within the tribunal hearing, the employer might need to cite this second opinion as the alternative source of evidence and why it was more acceptable to the employer than the fit note.

What to do if there are conflicting reports from Occupational health and the GP?

According to Seamus McGranaghan for Legal Island, if there are conflicting reports from an occupational health specialist versus a GP of the employee a few things that an employer can do includes:

  • Get more details about the GP’s assessment of the employee’s health. At times there is a danger of getting too less of a detail in the GP’s examination or assessment of the employee since at times the GP receives the request for a report. 

So the GP might simply write up a report without fine details so that the employer can make an informed decision about the condition of the employee because of the lack of detail and a true opinion.

  • On the other hand, there are times that the occupational health report might not be good in quality so what an employee or an employer can do is to seek a second opinion from another occupational health specialist. 
  • The employee should go for a second opinion of a specialist who is highly aware of the employees conditions as well as the working conditions. Seeking a further specialist report would be important before anyone takes any action regarding the state of the employee. 
  • Another step an employer can take is to give clear instructions to the GP as to what they are looking for and for what information they need during this second consultation with a senior specialist. 
  • When the letter is sent to the specialist regaining the requirements it is important that the employer or manager should be careful about what is being said in the letter since the employee could also seek to obtain a copy of that letter that went from the employer instructing occupational health and the GP.

The letter of instruction should be fair and balanced so that the crucial information is being answered to the questions that an employer needs to make an informed decision about the employee’s position at work. 

What power does occupational health have?

The occupational health service is essentially a medical service that is responsible for giving advice to employers and managers as well as employees related to their wellbeing in their workplace in terms of mental and physical health.

While they are essential to the well–being of the employees and the workplace, they do not have veto power over the managers and employers. The only power they is to make suggestions and advice to maintain the wellbeing of the employes as well as the power to:

  • Determine if the employee is fit to work or not.
  • Determine if the employee is ready to come back to work.
  • Determine how long it will take for the employee to come back to work.
  • Determine accommodations and adjustment strategies to help employees with medical conditions to maintain their well-being while being effective employees.

The occupational health service or specialist does not have any power beyond these three aspects of which they relay via their occupational health assessment report. 

Within this report, the specialist advice. They do not command the employers or the managers to take action. A lot of the advice and suggestions given are “clouds” rather than “shoulds”.

What is occupational health?

Occupational health is one area of the public health domain that is concerned with the physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations.

This area of public health involves promoting, advocating, and maintaining the highest degree of well-being for workers in the workplace across various occupations. 

The main role of occupational health within the workforce is to support management of health issues of employees within the workplace and are concerned with how their occupation impacts the health of the employee. 

It is important to mention that occupational health, while they are occeneed about how the work or the workplace might impact on the employee, it is also focused on how the employees’ health may impact on their performance at work. 

What do Occupational Health services do?

Occupational health within the workplace provides support to employees by interpreting medical information of employees in the case that they are unwell and to present it to Managers in a way that allows for employee advocacy as well as makes rooms for accommodations to support the employee in the workplace.

The support they provide includes providing advice to both the managers and supervisors as well as the employees in areas related to:

  • How the medical condition impacts an employee’s ability to work and perform well on the job as well as the impact it has on their ability to carry out their responsibilities. 
  • Workplace adjustments and accommodations for the employees well being such as reducing work hours or workload. 
  • Time period for the return of employees to work in the case they wish to take a medical leave of absence. 
  • Advice and referrals to Counseling and Psychological Services or any medical services. 
  • Providing employees with information related to employees fitness to return to work and  remain at their present role.

Occupational health specialists are the professionals that employees often reach out for guidance on the issues mentioned above.

Conclusion

In this blog we discussed if an occupational health overrule GP inputs. 

We also discussed what to do if there are conflicting reports from Occupational health and the GP and what powers does an occupational health specialist have. 

FAQ related to Can occupational health overrule GP reports?

Can an employer override a doctor’s sick note UK?

According to Personnel Today, the Government has indicated that employers may overrule a GP’s advice in a fit note as to whether or not a person is potentially fit to return to work.

Can an employer ignore an Occupational health report?

Unfortunately Yes. 

Your manager or employer can ignore the advice and suggestions given by the Occupational Health specialist in their report since it is only suggestion and advice. 

Is Occupational Health Confidential UK?

Any information obtained by the occupational health doctor or nurse is strictly confidential and is collected with the consent of the employee involved. 

No information is divulged to any third party, including the person’s general practitioner (GP) without the person’s consent.

What is an Occupational health assessment report?

Following the consultation with an Occupational health specialist, a report is made that is written by the Occupational health specialist on the employee’s condition to work.

The occupational health report will include information related to the employee’s medical condition, their ability to work, their needs of accommodation and support, as well as anything that can be done to help improve their well- being like referrals to medical services etc. 

Can occupational health sign me off work?

No, occupational health cannot sign you off work since the occupational health specialist is not in charge of signing off people from their work, only the manager or the employer of the employee can do that. 

References

Getting the most out of the fit note: guidance for employers and line managers. Gov.Uk. Retrieved on 25th March 2022. 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fit-note-guidance-for-employers-and-line-managers/getting-the-most-out-of-the-fit-note-guidance-for-employers-and-line-managers#:~:text=No.,or%20not%20to%20accept%20it.

Seamus McGranaghan. Dealing with conflicting GP and OH advice on employee’s fitness to work, legal island. Retrieved on 25th March 2022. https://www.legal-island.com/articles/uk/features/discussion/2017/sept/conflicting-medical-advice-on-an-employees-fitness-to-return-to-work/

To be Sick or Not to be Sick. Russell HR Consulting. Retrieved on 25th March 2022. https://russellhrconsulting.co.uk/the-hr-headmistress-blog/to-be-sick-or-not-to-be-sick

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