Should bosses be able to accompany workers to doctor's appointments? Photo: Andrew Quilty
BOSSES are increasingly attending doctor appointments with sick employees - and in some cases trying to alter their medical certificates to get them back to work sooner, unions say.
The trend, observed by the ACTU, raises unions' fears that the privacy of ill workers is being eroded. ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said the council had seen a rise in the number of workers being given false or misleading information about their rights when ill or injured.
''The treatment of ill and injured workers is a growing concern,'' he said. ''Employers, insurers and employer representatives are increasingly attending actual medical appointments with injured workers and, in some cases, forcing workers to attend company doctors.
''We've also had reports of doctors being pressured to change medical certificates and return-to-work plans.''
AMA president Steve Hambleton said the report suggested a shift from ''coercion instead of communication'' by companies dealing with work claims.
In one case raised with the ACTU, ''employee C'' lodged a formal complaint with her company, ''Q'', alleging that her manager had contacted her doctor without her knowledge and changed her medical certificate to say ''partial incapacity'' instead of ''total incapacity''.
Another report alleges an employee was told it was ''company policy'' for managers to attend doctors' appointments.
''We are also seeing a disturbing misuse of their personal medical information by employers and third parties,'' Mr Borowick said, with one report of a doctor refusing to deal with a company's claims because of the amount of pressure from the company.
Complaints had come from unions in retail, construction, manufacturing and the public sector, Mr Borowick said.
Dr Hambleton said there was ''a difference between providing information and manipulating an outcome''. ''Individual companies need to know that intruding on patients' privacy is not acceptable.''
Dr Hambleton said doctors should also be aware of the phenomenon and act appropriately.
''We'd be very unhappy if medical certificates were not being respected,'' he said. ''Altering information is a very serious charge … All doctors should know that the prime responsibility is their patient.''
The ACTU blamed the rise of complaints on the growing heft of company doctor networks, such as injuryNET, saying managers were even offering to drive workers to a company doctor instead of workers going alone to their own doctor.
The ACTU also expressed concern over employers seeking regular access to all health information, rather than that related to a current workplace injury. This included using legal means to force workers to reveal medical information and attend medical assessments.
In May, construction materials supplier Boral was warned by Fair Work Australia against allowing supervisors to accompany injured staff into doctors' consulting rooms, with the workplace umpire saying it had the potential to operate unfairly.
But, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Fair Work Act does not contain express provisions regarding whether an employer can accompany an employee to a medical appointment or have a private conversation with a doctor regarding the employee's medical condition.
The privacy commissioner was unavailable for comment yesterday.
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