Bosses are intruding on workcover doctor’s visits


BOSSES are increasingly attending doctor appointments with sick employees – and in some cases trying to alter their medical certificates to get them back to work sooner, unions say.

Bosses are intruding on workcover doctor’s visits

The trend, observed by the ACTU, raises unions’ fears that the privacy of ill workers is being eroded. ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said the council had seen a rise in the number of workers being given false or misleading information about their rights when ill or injured.

”The treatment of ill and injured workers is a growing concern,” he said. ”Employers, insurers and employer representatives are increasingly attending actual medical appointments with injured workers and, in some cases, forcing workers to attend company doctors.
”We’ve also had reports of doctors being pressured to change medical certificates and return-to-work plans.”
AMA president Steve Hambleton said the report suggested a shift from ”coercion instead of communication” by companies dealing with work claims.

In one case raised with the ACTU, ”employee C” lodged a formal complaint with her company, ”Q”, alleging that her manager had contacted her doctor without her knowledge and changed her medical certificate to say ”partial incapacity” instead of ”total incapacity”.

Another report alleges an employee was told it was ”company policy” for managers to attend doctors’ appointments.

”We are also seeing a disturbing misuse of their personal medical information by employers and third parties,” Mr Borowick said, with one report of a doctor refusing to deal with a company’s claims because of the amount of pressure from the company.

Complaints had come from unions in retail, construction, manufacturing and the public sector, Mr Borowick said.

Dr Hambleton said there was ”a difference between providing information and manipulating an outcome”. ”Individual companies need to know that intruding on patients’ privacy is not acceptable.”

Dr Hambleton said doctors should also be aware of the phenomenon and act appropriately.

”We’d be very unhappy if medical certificates were not being respected,” he said. ”Altering information is a very serious charge … All doctors should know that the prime responsibility is their patient.”

The ACTU blamed the rise of complaints on the growing heft of company doctor networks, such as injuryNET, saying managers were even offering to drive workers to a company doctor instead of workers going alone to their own doctor.

The ACTU also expressed concern over employers seeking regular access to all health information, rather than that related to a current workplace injury. This included using legal means to force workers to reveal medical information and attend medical assessments.

In May, construction materials supplier Boral was warned by Fair Work Australia against allowing supervisors to accompany injured staff into doctors’ consulting rooms, with the workplace umpire saying it had the potential to operate unfairly.

But, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Fair Work Act does not contain express provisions regarding whether an employer can accompany an employee to a medical appointment or have a private conversation with a doctor regarding the employee’s medical condition.

The privacy commissioner was unavailable for comment yesterday.



Thank you@TaraNipe for alerting us to this article via twitter!


5 Responses to “Bosses are intruding on workcover doctor’s visits”

  1. Bosses out of line on doctor attendance
    Oct 04, 2012

    Union action has brought forward a statement from the Fair Work Ombudsman in which it explained there was “no reason why an employer should seek to attend a private and confidential appointment with an employee, unless specifically requested to do so by the employee.”

    The statement was issued after unions recently raised concerns, aired in the national press, about employers eroding the privacy of ill workers by attending medical appointments of their employees.

    In May, construction materials supplier Boral was warned by Fair Work Australia against allowing supervisors to accompany injured workers into doctors consulting rooms.
    Last week the President of the Australian Medical Association Steve Hambleton told The Age, “individual companies need to know that intruding on patients privacy is not acceptable.”

    AMWU National Occupational Health and Safety Officer Deborah Vallance said workers often feel they have no choice but to allow a supervisor, return to work coordinator or other management representative to attend a medical appointment.

    “Workers with compensation claims assume their employers have a right to be there, but this is not the case.

    “There are rarely any grounds for the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship to be breached.”
    Ms Vallance said employers have the right to evidence that a person is unfit for work, however there was no need for the medical certificate to mention anything else.

    “Some workers are pressured by employers, especially for workers compensation matters, to allow an employer representative to attend doctor appointments. Workers compensation law does allow employers to have information about suitable duties a worker can do, however it does not say that employers have a right to attend medical appointments.”

    “Unfortunately we know of some companies where company policy says that workers are to be accompanied on medical appointments. That is totally unacceptable and must be challenged,” said Ms Vallance.

    The Fair Work Ombudsman explained it was not the role of employers to attend an appointment in order to determine the validity of medical certificates.

    “There are established processes within the profession for dealing with practitioners who issue a fraudulent or unjustified certificate, and against an employee if they provide the wrong information that led to the issuing of a certificate,” the statement read.


    workcovervictim3 October 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm
  2. The Unions need to attack the retrospective element of the Work Cover legislation changes that directly is responsible for allowing this lunacy to exist, Unions are doing what because they are so concerned ?

  3. I could see how that would work. Your employer creates the environment for an injury. Avoids responsibility. Then visits your doctor to medically ensure they get the out come they want. Then place the worker on return to work duties guarenteed to create further injury. Then with the help of the cases worker add financial and emotional stress. Back to the Dr in a vicious circle until they can’t possibly find any sutiable duties. Then offer a pathetic payout package. Not before they have tried their upmost to make the employee leave. I must add here that in the US it’s a insurance company tactic to send the case managers to the medical appointments. Well if you can persuade the employer to do that, then it keeps the heat of the case manger and insurance company.

  4. In case injured workers want to follow up on the Worksafe Week recording mentioned above, here’s the link on this site.

  5. Thanks for the post workcovervictim3. The doctors and their professional organisations have been slow to come to the party on this issue. Good on Steve Hambleton for speaking up now.
    I did send the AMA a copy of that tape I made at Workover Week 2009, and they were one of the many many recipients of that mail out who never acknowledged its receipt or responded to me. Perhaps I’ll cc a copy to Mr Hambleton. I think it provides clear proof that the Insurers were encouraging employers along this route of increasing intervention into the private health concerns of the worker. Since it was occurring at Worksafe Week, it was also being done with the resourcing and support of the Workover.
    Imagine how crazy making it would be to have your employer coming along to a medical appointment with you, and then, requesting “private” discussions with your doctor. It’s bad enough that they have so much of a window into your health issues as it is. Really, the employers only role in the Workover should be knowing how the worker’s illness/disability affects their capacity to work, so that the employer can offer suitable work for the RTW. When the worker’s diagnoses (and access to support and treatment) is the bone they all fight over, is it any wonder worker’s end up getting sicker and sicker. Adversarialism always slows and clogs up process, so when the process is rehabilitation and treatment, this slowing up inevitably has deleterious effects on the injured worker’s recovery.