Back to Work after a medical condition

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 - Article, CV Writing, health, Legal


Back to Work

San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Hitchster

Back to Work or Getting Work after a period of treatment for a health related issue can be difficult, but something which is not often talked about or discussed in professional circles from the employees’ view point.

The Credit Crunch and resultant Economic Downturn is not an easy situation for anyone, but employment prospects for those suffering from a health related issue could presently not be worse – especially if they try to hide it or lie about it.

In a recent survey, it was found that the credit crunch was increasing the amount of worrying each British resident was doing from around 90minutes per day to over 2 hours. Most of this extra worrying was a result of financial worries resulting from the Credit Crunch, and current economic situation.

This website and the focus of this blog is always towards employment, so why should additional worrying by a national population concern us here? Because it is pretty obvious to all the employment prospects for those presently or in the recent past with health issues will suffer from an even higher rate of unemployment during this period.

Cheltenham Council and Christine Laird

The choice to lie on a Job Application was tested in the Court System in January 2009, when Cheltenham Borough Council sued its ex-Managing Director Christine Laird, 50, for £750,000, on the grounds that she “misrepresented and misstated” her fitness for employment on an application form. The case against Mrs Laird, scheduled to last 38 days, began on January 26, 2009.

Mrs Laird was appointed chief executive on a salary of £75,000 in January 2002. During her 18month in office, she:

  • Filed 25 official complaints against Andrew McKinlay, the council leader, but only one was upheld. Mrs Laird then pursued a legal claim against him but lost and was ordered to pay £96,100 in costs
  • Spent 18 of the 36 months that she was employed, off work suffering from stress
  • Suspended on full pay in June 2004 for undisclosed reasons, her employment with the council was terminated in August 2005

The initial High Court hearing in Cheltenham failed to reach conclusion, and in light of its ramifications was referred to the High Court in London. It emerged during the initial hearing that Laird claimed the appointment was “unconditional” as there was no mention of a medical report being required – a failure accepted in the HR procedures of Cheltenham Council.

On June 15th, 2009, the action was dismissed by Mr Justice Hamblen, who at the same time rejected a counter-claim for damages by Mrs Laird to reflect the value of the work she did for the council during her tenure. The judge added as a postscript:

“It is over eight years since Mrs Laird joined the council and much of the intervening period has been spent in bitter dispute before various tribunals, at much personal and financial cost. I very much hope that a line can now finally be drawn, allowing Mrs Laird to get on with her life and the council to get on with the business of governing Cheltenham.”

Before going back to Work

Some health issues are not obvious to an employer, such as stress related issues, but applicants must be aware of the law and be honest – with both themselves and their potential employers – about their fitness to work:

  • UK Employment law says that an applicant need not state any previous medical conditions in an initial job application process (ie – their CV), but that they must answer honestly and truthfully when asked about their fitness to under take a specific role
  • Although applicants need not answer health questions, they must answer all reasonable questions in a potential employers Job Application form as to their medical history and fitness to work
  • The employer cannot ask any direct or unreasonable questions of the employee during an application process – eg: due to plan to get pregnant; have you suffered from stress related illnesses; have you had any major operations
  • Employers can refer any applicant (normally taken to be all applicants for that post who could be employed, other wise it could be held up as discrimination), to the employer’s own medical screening service
  • Screening services can only undertake appropriate medical tests to that job post, but are legally entitled once given clearance by the candidate to ask for copies of the applicants recent medical notes – often taken in the form of a record and accompanying notes from the applicants own doctor

Applicants refusing medical screening services access to their medical records are often immediately excluded from the application process. This is often found to be through fear of a negative result; but it is also found that if they had referred first to their own doctor, they could guide them as to what work is or is not possible, and what they would have to release to a medical screening questionnaire if asked to do so.

In summary, if you suffer from or are recently (ie – in the past three years), through a major medical condition, then before applying for any jobs speak to your own doctor first. Gain their guidance on what work you are fit for, and what you should presently avoid. If you choose to ignore this medical advice, or choose to lie about your medical conditions, then you may like to consider that even though the employer may have an unreasonable application process, you can be sued for lying on your job application form – the case of Mrs Laird will enable the lawyer alter defending you against these lie’s the extent of your own personal liability.

Lying in a job application process is never the answer, and being honest about your ability to work will only serve you well and result in you gaining long-term employment. Personal medical and crisis issues if addressed well in interview are seen as positive points of character which employers look for, not negative signs of rejection form the process.

Good Luck!

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