Employers should fund PMI to aid return to work

A court ruling in a case involving work-related stress has determined that employers could be required to fund private medical insurance (PMI) as part of a ‘reasonable adjustment’ to help employees return to work.

The claimant in Croft Vets Ltd v Butcher, who had been a long-serving employee, left work with serious work-related stress and depression. The employer asked a private consultant psychiatrist, whom it had used previously, to prepare a report. He recommended that the employer should consider funding further psychiatric sessions. 

The psychiatrist’s report pointed out that the treatment would not guarantee that the employee would be able to return to work. The consultant later rated the chances of a return to work as no greater than 50%.

The employment tribunal upheld the decision that the employer had failed to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ by not paying for the recommended treatment. 

The duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ was triggered by the employer requiring that the claimant should be able to return to work and perform the essential functions of her role. The employer’s offer of limited duties at a substantially reduced salary did not discharge its obligation to avoid that disadvantage. 

‘Reasonable adjustments’, which could include making adjustments to an employer’s premises or to an employee’s working arrangements, have to be job-related, rather than just measures to improve the employee’s health generally.

The tribunal confirmed that, because the recommended treatment was a specific form of support that might enable her to return to work and to cope with the difficulty she had been experiencing, it was sufficiently job-related. 

The medical evidence was that the employee was suffering from predominantly work-related stress and that there were reasonable prospects that if the advice was followed and the adjustments put in place they would be successful.

However, the tribunal made it clear that the decision did not mean that it would be a ‘reasonable adjustment’ for employers to pay for private medical treatment in general. Rather, it was a ‘reasonable adjustment’ to pay for the specific treatment recommended in this case.

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David Castling, commercial sales manager at Engage Mutual, said: “This decision is likely to make employers think even more carefully about the healthcare provision they offer staff.

Stress is becoming a more prevalent problem, and this ruling has the potential to leave organisations open to incurring substantial medical costs.”