Does the new reintegration decree outrule medical inspectors?

A lot has been said about the new Royal Decree on the reintegration of employees on long-term sick leave. The prevention advisor-occupational health physician, the HDI advisory physician, the employer and the employee are key players in the reintegration process. But what about the medical inspector? Is there still a role for the medical inspector in the return-to-work journey of employees? Annelies Feytons, Mensura’s expert in corporate law, provides a summary of the facts.

When an employee is on sick leave and therefore unable to return to work, the medical inspector will determine whether the reasons for the leave and the period of leave are justified. This process is initially based on the medical certificate provided by the treating physician. However, the medical inspector is not the one who decides whether or not the employee’s workstation or job duties should be altered or restricted. Instead, this decision is in the hands of the prevention advisor-OH physician (PA-OHP). The latter is therefore the number one point of contact in the reintegration journey of workers.

The reintegration decree makes no mention of medical inspectors. However, this does not mean that their role becomes obsolete. Your right as an employer to send a medical inspector to the employee’s home or residential address prior or during the reintegration process remains unchanged. Even after the period of guaranteed wages, you still have the right to verify the employee’s incapacity to work through the services of a medical inspector.

Financial benefit

Hiring a medical inspector prior to initiating the reintegration process will definitely benefit you as an employer in the long run when it comes to guiding employees on sick leave back to the workfloor. If you are convinced that some of your employees are able to return to work sooner than initially thought, then you may be able to reduce their period of leave through the medical monitoring process carried out by the medical inspector.

If the medical inspector believes that the initial period of leave of 4 or more weeks can be reduced, then the employee must undergo a return-to-work medical exam with the PA-OHP if he or she is subject to medical surveillance due to the nature of their job. The PA-OHP will then examine whether the employee’s workstation or job duties should be altered or restricted.

As an employer, it is important to decide whether to request the services of a medical inspector or to initiate the actual reintegration process. The latter is definitely recommended for employees who have been on sick leave for four or more consecutive months. (Please note: until 31/12/2017, employers can initiate the reintegration process only for employees who have been absent from work since 01/01/2016).

Available for medical exams

However, hiring a medical inspector during the reintegration process will also benefit you as an employer. For instance, employees who have partially returned to work but are still partially on long-term sick leave must remain available for medical monitoring. If they fail to make themselves available for medical monitoring up to three times, then this may lead to dismissal for just cause.  

Naturally, there is a lot more to the reintegration process than simply requesting the services of a medical inspector or initiating the actual reintegration process. The new reintegration decree has given employers the opportunity to take matters in their own hands. However, it is important to remember that the decree by itself is not an effective measure to prevent absenteeism. A combination of measures is required to actively reduce absenteeism among your workforce, as each case will be different. Developing a well-thought-out policy on absenteeism and reintegration that covers all aspects is therefore paramount.

Need help with preventing and reducing worker absenteeism within your organisation? Get in touch with Mensura (external department for prevention and protection in the workplace) or Certimed (medical monitoring department) to discuss a custom solution for your needs.