Workplaces can face a wide range of issues as a result of which employees may end up on sick leave. However, an extended sick leave possibly followed by a disability pension is rarely a preferred alternative for either party, and therefore it is essential for the employer and the occupational health care (OHC) provider to co-operate and find the best practices for tackling any issues at the workplace. Bullying, harassment, and physical and mental overload are all examples of issues that the employer must be able to deal with. When facing these kinds of issues at the workplace, the employer should bear in mind that it is not only important to handle these issues because of a legal requirement to act, but also because they can cause significant costs for the business and have a negative impact on the employer’s reputation.
Hannes Snellman held a breakfast seminar at its Helsinki office on 6 September 2018 together with Jan Schugk, Chief Medical Officer at the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK). The objective of the seminar was to discuss the ways in which the employer should intervene in different situations at the workplace as well as the role of OHC in these situations. Below is a list of factors that were discussed at the seminar, which will help the employer to stay on top of issues occurring at the workplace.
- Planning ahead: The employer should plan ahead on how to deal with different kinds of issues. This could mean setting up practices and policies relating to co-operation between the employees and employer and having a coherent disciplinary procedure, as well as having a clear guidance regarding sick leaves, for instance having a rule that the employee must provide a medical certificate if their sick leave lasts longer than three days. The employer could also prepare an early intervention model together with the employee representatives and the OHC provider, which can help to detect, address, and solve different problems in the work community. Furthermore, the employer should make sure that all employees are aware of the company practices and policies and that they are consistently applied by all the supervisors.
- Taking action: The employer has a duty to act when suspecting a health or safety related issue at the workplace. Firstly, it is essential to understand the nature of the issue – is it a question of a health issue or just of bad behaviour on the part of one of the employees? It is important to remember that the employer’s duty to act does not only apply in situations where the employee’s health is endangered due to physical factors, but also when the employee is suffering from psychological and social stress factors. Secondly, the employer should have a discussion with the employees and determine the necessary actions. The employer should also assess whether taking disciplinary actions, such as issuing a warning, would be necessary, or whether the employee should be instructed to see a doctor. Furthermore, when handling these types of situations, the employer should always remember to treat all employees equally and consistently.
- Taking care of the practicalities: Workplaces of the 21st century face a wide range of issues as a result of which employees may end up on sick leave, and thus, the employer should always ensure that all practicalities relating to any issues arising in the workplace are seen to in a consistent manner. Such practicalities may concern, for instance, solving a conflict at the workplace, distributing and allocating work in such a way as to avoid any further issues, and the employer’s obligation to pay salary during an employee’s sick leave. As an example, pursuant to the Finnish Employment Contracts Act and collective bargaining agreements, the employer has a duty to pay salary to employees who are disabled to perform their work because of a medical condition or an accident. Sometimes there may be a valid reason for the employer to question whether the employee’s absence from work is actually due to a disability caused by a medical condition or an accident, for instance if there has been a conflict at work and the employee has gone on sick leave immediately thereafter. In such situations, the employer may have a right to request the employee to provide additional information regarding the absence, in other words, even though the employer should normally accept a medical certificate from any doctor, in these types of situations the employer may have a right to request a medical certificate issued by an occupational health care doctor. Should the employee refuse to provide the requested documentation, the employer may have a reason to question the validity of the employee’s absence.
- Co-operating with the OHC provider: Many of the issues occurring at the workplace are health-related and require co-operation between the employer, the employee, and the OHC provider. However, sometimes employees may visit the OHC provider for reasons that are not actually related to health but to a conflict at the workplace. Thus, it is important for the employer to keep the OHC provider informed of any issues occurring at the workplace to allow good co-operation. Informing the OHC provider about conflicts at the workplace will help the OHC doctor to determine any underlying cause behind the employee’s visit. However, it is important to remember that even though the employer is allowed to discuss any issues occurring at the workplace with the OHC provider, the same rule does not apply vice versa: the OHC provider is not allowed to discuss an individual employee’s health issues with the employer without the employee’s consent
Associate at Hannes Snellman
Specialist Partner at Hannes Snellman