“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.”