Weekly dilemma

An employee has started taking increasing amounts of time off sick for various complaints that always seem to require a few days’ absence at a time. During his ‘back to work’ interviews he always maintains that he did see his GP, but I am sceptical about this. Can I ask for access to his medical records to confirm this? What if he refuses?

The Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 allows you to ask for medical reports, but not medical records, provided you have the employee’s consent. You could try requesting that the employee’s GP compiles an ‘overview’ report of his health, which should take into account all the absences to date. If your employee gives his consent then you can enclose the consent form with a letter to the GP explaining your concerns about the employee’s frequent absences and your wish to find out more so that you can assist the employee.

Without your employee’s consent you cannot contact his GP. You should continue to monitor the situation and, if the absences continue, you could consider disciplinary action under an attendance policy, if you have one. 

Procedures you should follow

  • Write to the employee to say a review will take place because their attendance record is unacceptably poor.

  • At the meeting, review the absenteeism and discuss any reasons. Formally ask for their consent to access their medical reports under the Access to Medical Reports Act.

  • Agree and set regular review meetings.

  • Consider whether the employee is having any personal problems or whether there might be an underlying condition which could amount to a disability – eg depression.

  • Indicate the next stage of the procedure (eg the issuing of formal warnings if the absences continue).

  • Follow your disciplinary procedures for unauthorised absence if the situation does not improve.

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