Why do employers ask for medical reports?

You may be subject to medical examination in the course of your employment. This can be for a variety of perfectly valid reasons. For example, a medical report may be requested if you are in work but struggling to cope because of ill health; you have been off sick for some time; you are preparing to return to work after a period of sickness absence; or where consideration is being given to early retirement on grounds of ill health.

What kinds of issues often arise in relation to medical reports?

The following issues are often reported by members:

  • the member disagrees with the report
  • the report contains irrelevant information
  • the member accepts the report is accurate but does not want it sent to the employer.

What are the benefits of involving my NEU representative at an early stage?

If any of the issues highlighted above arise in your case, your NEU representative will seek to address the underlying issues. It will not be in your interests to simply refuse to disclose your medical report. Instead the union will seek to negotiate the most favourable outcome, which may require a degree of compromise on your part.

Should I be provided with information before I am asked to go for a medical assessment?

Before your employer asks you to go for a medical assessment, you should be told what the assessment is for, what it will entail and to whom any medical report produced will be disclosed. The NEU believes medical reports should go initially to your employer’s human resources services and that a redacted (ie edited) version should be issued to your head teacher if necessary. Seek to ensure that this is the case before you consent to the disclosure of the medical report to your employer (see FAQ below, Is my head teacher entitled to see the report?).

What is a medical consent form and what should it say?

Before your interview with a health adviser, you will be asked to sign a medical consent form, which will enable the adviser to obtain a record of your medical history from your GP. It will also enable the adviser to send a copy of the completed medical report to your employer or some other third party. The content of the consent form may vary depending on whether the person asked to assess you is a medical practitioner (eg a GP or occupational health physician) or not.

What should happen if the person assessing me is a medical practitioner?

If the person assessing you is a medical practitioner, the consent form must inform you of your rights under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988, namely your right to:

  • refuse to consent to the release of the report
  • see the completed report before or after it is sent to your employer or third party
  • withhold permission for its release pending its correction/amendment.

What if the person assessing me is not a medical practitioner?

If the health adviser is not a medical practitioner, your rights under the Data Protection Act 2018 will instead be engaged. When creating the report, the health adviser must be mindful of the data protection principles, which include a requirement for personal data to be accurate, adequate, relevant and not excessive. If you believe the report fails to meet these principles, you should make your objections known in writing.

Although there is no express right under the Data Protection Act to see a completed report before it is sent to your employer, the adviser has an overriding obligation to process your personal data fairly and lawfully, and this may require them to put your wishes in this above your employer’s wish to see the completed report as soon as possible.

What can I do to ensure that I see the report first?

To ensure that a medical report is not released to your employer or some other third party before you have seen it first, make sure any medical consent form you are asked to sign contains a clause which expressly stipulates that the report will not be disclosed without your consent and before you have seen it. If the consent form contains no such clause, make its inclusion on the form a condition of your consent, ie agree to sign the consent form only once such a clause is added to it.

What happens if I disagree with a report?

The first step is to talk it over with the author of the report. If the author’s opinion is based on incorrect facts, you should discuss the matter with them. Most health professionals would be happy to reconsider their opinion. If the facts are correct, the health adviser will not be able to change their professional opinion, but should take the time to explain it to you.

In the event that you continue to disagree with the health adviser, you can either ask for a note outlining your disagreement to be attached to the report or request a second opinion before agreeing to disclosure. You will need to make your request in writing and your employer or pension fund trustee will need to be notified of this.

What if the report contains irrelevant information?

Sometimes a report will contain details that are not relevant to the employer or other third party, ie pension fund trustee. Often all that is necessary is a recommendation of fitness to work along with any information directly relevant to that. There is no need for your full medical history to be attached, nor should information about any other conditions be disclosed unless directly relevant. If you are concerned about this, you should raise it with the author of the report in the first instance.

Can I withhold consent to the release of a report?

Yes, you can if the report is covered by the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988, ie because it is produced by a medical practitioner. If the report is produced by someone else and is therefore covered by the Data Protection Act 2018, you will not be able to withhold consent unless there was a clause in the consent form entitling you to refuse disclosure. The author will be entitled to rely on other relevant factors (eg the vital interests of pupils or assessment of the working capacity of an employee) in deciding whether or not to disclose the report to your employer.

Even if the health professional agrees not to disclose the report without your consent, you should be aware that withholding consent will not prevent your employer from acting as it sees fit. Your employer will still be able to act without the medical report and may not be expected to make reasonable adjustments without it. In most cases, you are likely to put yourself in a worse position by refusing to release the report.

Is my head teacher entitled to see the report?

The union takes the view that medical reports should not be made available to head teachers and other line managers in their entirety. You are entitled during your medical assessment to be frank about the issues arising in your workplace – including the behaviour of individual colleagues – which you believe may be contributing or may have contributed to your ill health. You should not be pressured to hide your views for fear that you will be victimised once the report is disclosed to your head teacher.

The union accepts, however, that in the majority of cases a head teacher will require an appropriately edited version of the report highlighting, for example, any reasonable adjustments recommended by the health adviser (refer to the FAQ below).

If you are concerned that the medical report may be made available to your head teacher without appropriate redaction beforehand, you should make this a condition of your consent to the report being sent to your employer (refer to the FAQ above re medical consent forms).

What sort of information should be removed from the report before it is sent to my head teacher?

Your full medical history is unlikely to be necessary for your head teacher to assess any risks that your condition may pose to you, your pupils and your colleagues. If you have a history of depression, for example, it will be sufficient for the medical health adviser to indicate either that you have depression which is likely to recur unless certain adjustments to your working conditions can be made, or that there is nothing that can be done to facilitate your continued employment. There is no need for your head teacher to know that you have had bouts of depression in the past, since such information is likely to take the focus away from your current level of health and the adjustments which need to be made now. A decision relating to your employment should never be based on past disability.

What sort of information should normally be incorporated in a report to my head teacher?

A medical report to your head teacher should normally incorporate the following:

  • when you are likely to be fit to return to work or the minimum period for which you will continue to remain absent
  • whether you will be fit for your full duties when you are able to return to work, or if there will be some limitations, what those limitations will be and whether they will be temporary or permanent
  • if you have a ‘disability’ within the meaning of the Equality Act
  • if your work has caused or contributed to your ill health
  • if your employer can do anything to assist your return to work
  • the kind of adjustments which should be considered to help keep you in employment
  • a time frame for further review.