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Can you direct someone to attend a mental health assessment?

Can we request a person seek a mental health assessment from a GP?
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Can you direct someone to attend a mental health assessment?

Can you direct someone to attend a mental health assessment?

28 August 2020

By Gaby Grammeno

Can we direct an employee to attend a mental health assessment?

This question was recently sent to our Workplace Advice Line.

Q Can we request a person seek a mental health assessment from a GP based on repeated observation of a concerning behaviour? What is the risk of directing a staff member to attend a medical assessment, if there are concerns about this person’s mental health?

A Issues regarding the mental health of staff need careful and sensitive handling, to avoid making the situation worse, both in terms of the employee’s vulnerability to psychological injury and with regard to the quality of the person’s job performance.

If reasonably possible, an employee’s concurrence with any proposed course of action should be obtained, rather than foisting attempts at problem-solving on them without their consent.

In deciding what action to take and whether to adopt robust measures such as directing a staff member (against their will) to undergo a medical assessment, a key consideration is whether the person’s job is safety-critical.

For example, if the person is an airline pilot and there are reasonable grounds for supposing that he or she may be suicidal, then it may be a catastrophic mistake not to force the issue of a medical assessment.

If the staff member’s job is not critical for safety (or for other fundamental aspects of the business or undertaking), there is more leeway for approaching the situation in a less confrontational manner.

The person’s job performance should be the main factor influencing decisions about what to do about repeated observations of concerning behaviour. The employee’s psychological wellbeing is a lesser consideration if there is no material effect on how the person is fulfilling his or her function at work.

Nevertheless, employers do have a duty of care to ensure the work is not exposing the employee to the risk of psychological injury.

To fulfil this duty, an employer does need to ascertain whether the work is contributing to the problem, and whether allowances need to be made to protect the employee’s mental health. An employer may therefore need external advice from a suitably qualified person (whether a GP or a psychologist) to help clarify the best course of action.

Ideally, the situation should be approached in a consultative and empathetic manner, and the employee’s agreement obtained for a medical assessment, on the basis that it is necessary to help the employer decide how best to fulfil its duty of care to the person.  

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