The potential benefits of utilising pre-employment medicals

by 13 Jun 2012


To gain an understanding of the potential benefits of deploying pre-employment medicals, it is important to understand their purpose.

Essentially, a pre-employment medical isused to help an organisation in the hiring process increases the likelihood of hiring candidates who can meet the inherent job requirements at an acceptable level of health risk both to the worker and the organisation. With respect to the medical, organisations need to understand and comply with Anti-Discrimination and Privacy legislation, in that physical and indeed mental attributes must relate back to the intended occupation, rather than simply a blanket approach to all occupations.

Essentially, every organisation accepts a certain level of risk when engaging and retaining employees. This risk is counterbalanced by reward for the organisation in measurable factors such as improved productivity, leading to financial gain. By hiring the wrong worker in the wrong occupation, the organisation imports significant risk directly into its operation and may stand to lose the productivity balance and expose itself to workers compensation claims, poor absenteeism and a high resource drain on existing personnel (such as those engaged in human resources, training and line management). This can focus decision making away from productive avenues.

On the subject of Privacy, The National Privacy Principals (NPP) sets out 10 principles that organisations need to set as the minimum standard when dealing with personal information and, in relation to pre-employment medicals, this is particularly evident in NPP 1, Collecting Information, and NPP 10, Health Information.

As a part of an overall privacy policy, organisations need to implement and maintain an ‘authority to release’ process, to ensure that individuals are aware of what information will be collected and stored in relation to their health and their employment within an organisation. From my experience, the ‘authority to release’ is often overlooked by organisations and it has the ability to not just impact upon the collection and use of personal information in a practical sense (i.e. discussions with a worker around a health condition raised by a Doctor), but also presents a significant legal exposure through contravention of the Privacy Act itself.

Organisations must also ensure that they comply with relevant legislation when it comes to undertaking pre-employment medicals and most especially, anti-discrimination legislation. Pre-Employment medicals must relate specifically to the attributes of the role and if they do not, then it is quite likely the Anti-Discrimination Act has been breached and the organisation exposed to possible legal action. There are numerous factors that must also be considered, inclusive of age, sex, race and religion. It is worthwhile quoting the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board “It is vital that a pre-employment medical test relates exclusively and directly to the particular duties of the job and does not discriminate against people with disabilities.”

In my opinion, the pre-employment medical presents an opportunity to all parties, the candidate/employee and the organisation to actively engage in health discussions on joining the organisation. This assists both the worker and the organisation to maintain good health and reduce the likelihood of injury. This is mutually beneficial to both parties.

For the individual, it should reinforce that the organisation they are joining places a value upon their overall safety, ensuring they can carry out nominated duties without an increased risk to their health. Pre-Employment medicals can also raise health issues, previously unknown or undetected that potentially, if left undiagnosed, can adversely impact upon the individual's health and have far reaching impacts other than simply their ability to work.

From an employer’s perspective a pre-employment medical can also help address some of the cultural barriers around the mistrust of organisations using medical information, such as promotions. Establishing trust must be seen as a key priority and this can be demonstrated through a mature and sound pre-employment medical process.

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