Adopting pre-employment medicals

Better to be safe than sorry | 29 Oct 2013 12:41 PM


A decade ago, there was the common notion within an organisation that if they didn’t know about the health of a worker, they cannot be held accountable. It’s safe to say this has now proven not to be the case and that employers are expected to, at a minimum, have involvement in the protection of the health of a worker and ideally promoting better health. As a consequence, with greater involvement comes greater responsibility and accountability.
For any organisation interested in improving the health and wellbeing of its workforce, understanding and managing the health risk is a key step and pre-employment medicals offer a way to achieve this through the recruitment process.
Essentially, a pre-employment medical is used during the hiring process to increase 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. Essentially the purpose of pre-employment medicals is to:
  • Identify risks to the individual that will place them in a position whereby a loss will be experienced (i.e. workers compensation claim, illness, absenteeism or result in a situation where the worker has to resign and seek employment elsewhere).
  •  Job match the individual so they are afforded the maximum ability and protection to stay at work, gainfully employed, for as long as possible. Considering the issues surrounding skills shortage, ageing workforce, productivity and workers compensation claims, the aim for employers must be to get the right person in the right role for as long as possible.
 With respect to the medical, organisations need to understand and comply with anti-discrimination and privacy legislations; physical and indeed mental attributes must relate back to the intended occupation, rather than simply being a blanket approach to all occupations.
Essentially, every organisation accepts a certain level of risk when engaging and retaining an employee. 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, organisations import significant risk directly into its operations 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.
In relation to privacy, the National Privacy Principles (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 NPP1, Collecting Information and NPP 10, Health Information.
The Benefits
The benefits of pre-employment medicals from purely a cost perspective of workers transitioning from normal employment into either poor health or compensation claims, the evidence stacks up and is supported statistically in academic journals.
As any rehabilitation provider will tell you, it is quite often the hidden component of a workers compensation claim that is much more difficult to manage. Often there is an underlying health or degenerative condition that gives rise to the compensation claim in the first place and makes both the claim and injury management very difficult.
Potential downsides
Pre-employment medicals can backfire on an organisation if all they are going to do is the screening and nothing else. This is because the results for that medical essentially become the benchmark for the worker and if there is any deterioration over time, which one would inevitably expect; there is an instant exposure to a claim for compensation if that deteriorating has anything to do with duties performed. It is also worth considering the cost to conduct pre-employment medicals and indeed what components within the assessment are actually going to be used by an organisation.
The Employee Lifecycle
Deploying pre-employment medicals within an organisation and explaining the benefits to both parties is simple. Then if the employers are truly committed to the need and understand the benefit of pre-employment medicals then this same process can be extended to cover employees as they move between different roles in the same organisation. In adopting this approach, the benefits to the organisation and the individual can continue throughout the lifetime of employment.
If you require any further information on pre-employment medicals or assistance with human resources activities, please do not hesitate to contact the Access HR team, we are always happy to hear from you.
Source: N. Binns, HC Magazine Issue 11.01 and AccessHR