Weekly dilemma: Health checks for staff

Q I am the HR manager of a UK bank and am increasingly worried about the health of some of our employees. One, in particular, is very overweight, and has recently taken a lot of time off with health problems. Last week, I read that Michelin inspectors are given health checks and cholesterol tests by their employer. Is this something we could legally introduce and even make compulsory, or are there any legal issues?

It is becoming more common for businesses to provide some level of medical provision for workers. There are clear business benefits with less time being lost for routine GP visits and a reduction in the levels of sickness absence.

In some circumstances there is a statutory requirement to provide health checks. Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, an employee who is asked to work at night should first be offered a free health assessment to check whether their health may be put at risk. In many types of work there is a requirement for job applicants to undergo a health check as part of the recruitment process. However, after that, while businesses may offer health checks, they rarely place the employee under an obligation to undergo one unless there is a concern about their ability to carry out their duties.

Legally, there is nothing to prevent an employer from including a requirement for the employee to undergo a periodic health check in the contract of employment. But if an employee refuses to consent to a health check, it could cause a problem. Medical records amount to sensitive information, and can only be processed with the employee’s consent under data protection provisions. So taking action against an employee who refuses consent for health checks could leave you open to claims of unfair treatment.

In practice, there are other means to promote healthy living without forcing an employee to undergo checks. You may consider offering subsidised slimming classes a ‘healthy’ menu in the canteen subsidised gym membership help with giving up smoking, alcohol or drugs and stress counselling.

Michael Ball, Partner, Halliwells

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