Saturday, September 18, 2010

Work related ill-health: this, that and the other

As a trade union branch secretary I get these sort of questions quite often so I’m thinking of sending this check list out to all branch stewards and safety reps on how to respond to union members who asks for representation on work related ill-health matter.  Have I missed anything out?

This: If there is any chance of a personal injury claim then make sure they are referred immediately to a union lawyer.  Do not delay since there are strict time limits. Some so-called “no-win no fee” solicitors will charge you for an insurance  policy in case they lose and expect you to pay up front for very expensive medical or other specialist reports.

That: Reassure that this referral should not affect your member’s employment and is usually dealt with by the employers’ insurers!

Other: Most (not all) of no-win, no fee firms are simply crooks. 

This: Was an accident/incident form filled out at the time?  If not then do a retrospective one backdated and send to manager(s).  If our member was off work for more than 3 days (at any stage due to the accident or incident) ask for confirmation that this report will be sent to the relevant Health & Safety enforcement unit (either the HSE or the Local Council depending on where you work). If your member is off sick due to work related stress, bullying or harassment - report this as well. 

That: You cannot rely on my managers to always fill out an accident/incident form.  Make sure they do and keep copies of report and ask for a written copy of management’s  investigation into the original report.

Other: if an accident or incident form is not filled out the member may lose out in state benefits and a personal injury claim - regardless of its merit.

This: Ask for copies of the health & safety risk assessment covering what the member was doing at the time. 

That: There is a statutory requirement for suitable and adequate risk assessments for all significant workplace activities to be in place. (use your common - but this requirement pretty much covers everything a worker does)

Other: If manager does not respond or risk assessments are inadequate or none existence or out of date then take up with local joint safety committees first but if no joy take it up further and if necessary report to the relevant Health & Safety enforcement office. Get advice first from your union.

This: think about advising your member to go to their local Citizen Advice Bureau (or Law Centre if they do welfare rights) and have a full benefit check.  Union reps are not specialists in this area.

That: Many ill-health benefits are NOT means tested so it does not matter what your savings are or what your partner (if you have one) earns.   

Other: Remember if work related to ask about Industrial Injuries benefits which are also none means tested and “no fault” (you do not have to prove negligence).  This work related benefit covers mental and physical health illness.  Apply to have it backdated to date of accident or onset of illness. 

This: What do the Employer Occupational health advisers say about the illness and the likelihood (prognosis) of recovery? 

That: Has the government funded “access to work” advisers been contacted?  Will they/Employer pay for such things as a taxi to take your member to work or provide specialist equipment? (the employer will usually have to pay as well – quite right too)

Other: If Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) should apply the employer should make reasonable adjustments and/or consider redeployment.  Remember under DDA such employees have to be given priority for suitable redeployment.  If a disabled member can at all realistically do the new job they should ring fence it for them.   Argue about redesigning a potential job around his disability (HR don’t generally like this argument).

This: If your member is off long term and their contractual sickness pay has run out check to see if the company has a Permanent Health Insurance Policy (PHI).   If there is any delay in payment find out who is responsible for the delay.  If an unreasonable length of time is taken (and there usually is) consider making a formal complaint of maladministration to the employer and insurance company and ask the employer make up the wages until a decision made. 

That: If someone is off long term sick then the insurance company should assess our member and start paying as soon as the sick pay runs out  (if eligible) .  Always appeal the decision if the PHI Company turns down unreasonably any claim and ask the Employer to pay for an “independent health assessment”.   

Other: Remember nearly all (non-mutually owned) insurance companies are simply crooks.

Finally: Does your union have a welfare fund?  If so consider referring the member if in financial difficulties (some unions have disability and/or ill health benefits as well?)

What have I missed out?


Anonymous said...

you left out that collective action is always the best way to defend sick workers.

John Gray said...

Hi Anon

Yes, I should have mentioned collective action and that union density and number of trained reps is the best defence.

Not sure it fits on a "check list"?