Accompanying injured staff to doctor is intrusive

by Stephanie Zillman28 Mar 2012

Construction materials supplier Boral has come under fire from the workplace umpire for its practice of supervisors accompanying injured employees into doctors’ consulting rooms – HR said it was in order to support the worker, but Fair Work says it’s an invasion of privacy.

The practice was looked at by Fair Work after a Boral plasterboard worker sustained a minor hand injury which required a small number of stitches. The employee’s supervisor, with the consent of the worker, accompanied him into the rooms of the doctor's surgery. After the incident was brought to the attention of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the issue was raised with the company and it was ultimately taken to Fair Work Australia for conciliation.

At a hearing held on Monday to resolve the dispute between Boral and the union, Fair Work Australia commissioner John Ryan recommended the manufacturer change its practice, and said the current process at Boral had potential to operate unfairly.

Ryan said that even though Boral requests permission from injured workers before sending a supervisor or manager to accompany them, the real problem is that an injured worker who needs to get to a doctor for medical treatment may not have the capacity to say “no” to such a request. “Boral's request that injured workers permit a supervisor or manager to attend while the employee is being treated could place them in a difficult position. Boral puts the request to an employee when the employee is vulnerable, and this could create a situation of undue influence or pressure being placed on the employee,” Ryan wrote in a non-binding opinion issued to the company on Monday. The commissioner further advised that supervisors should only enter the doctor's surgery once the injury had been dealt with.

The union’s industrial officer who handled the dispute slammed the practice as outrageous and said it was shocking to see one of the nation’s biggest companies operating such an intrusive policy. “The supervisors at Boral should concentrate on their own jobs and leave healthcare in the hands of medical professionals,” he said. “What's next – will supervisors follow workers into the confessional?”

Yet at the hearing, Boral's national HR manager told Fair Work Australia that the practice was a reflection of the seriousness with which the company views its duty of care to employees. It was argued that the practice of accompanying an injured employee to the doctor is undertaken to support their prompt treatment, ensure safe carriage and assist with information to the treating doctor. Further, it was thought that it was helpful for supervisors or managers to attend doctor consultations with employees injured in the workplace so they could explain to the treating doctor the work of the employee and, if necessary, any alternative duties available to them.

The company is yet to comment on whether they will cease the practice as per the commissioner’s recommendation.


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  • by Peter 29/03/2012 1:16:19 PM

    Boral hold the line. Is the treatment about anything else other than the injury, No. Is there a likely hood that questions will be raised about care and alternative duties, Yes.
    Is the injured person always able take and provide this detail,No.
    Employs should be there, but the treatment should only be about the injury nothing else.

  • by Sonia 3/04/2012 10:43:58 AM

    Caring about someone you work with who is injured is healthy, so making sure they get to proper medical attention is not intrusive. It is probably not necessary to attend the treatment but to be present to answer questions from the Medical professional is a good idea. For goodness sake, if a person who is injured does not have the capacity to say no to being accompanied, then it is quite serious an injury and further harm may come to the individual on the way to medical treatment, so it makes sense to have them be accompanied. I cant see that Boral is invading anyones privacy by caring about their injured employee enough to make sure they are treated properly for any injury. If the case were the opposite such that an injured employee was left to seek medical attention on their own with no assistance then I would think there was a case of serious neglect or care.

  • by Sonia #2 3/04/2012 1:52:55 PM

    Accompany an employee to the service provider by all means for support and to make sure employee arrives safely. Stay outside while employee consults the service provider. If the provider knows there is someone waiting for employee, they will usually talk to the other person if they feel that something is to be gained by doings so e.g. additional info about incident, someone to look after the employee after treatment. The question of alternative duties can be followed up in due course by a rehabilitation and return to work co-ordinator if need be.

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