Case conferences usually consist of face to face discussion between the employee, their representative (should they wish to invite one), an Occupational Health professional, the line manager and an HR representative.
The conference is an opportunity to discuss any health issues the employee may have and the impact of these issues on their employment. The aim to reach a common understanding of the issues and agreeing a way forward.
What is a case conference?
By discussing the employment circumstances and medical background of the employee and the Occupational Health recommendations, a case conference aims to reach a common understanding of the issues and to agree a way forward with specific actions, eg another appointment at a later date, deciding to ask for consent for GP reports.
This may be particularly helpful where managers have concerns regarding long-term sickness absence; failure of a problem to resolve satisfactorily; queries or difficulty regarding fitness to return to work; the nature of adjustments or restrictions required to allow a return to work or concerns regarding the ability of management to accommodate such adjustments.
It may also be useful where further clarification or discussion regarding occupational health advice is required.
Case conferences are not mandatory, rather they are an opportunity to discuss matters, should this be necessary.
How should case conferences take place?
Case conferences are arranged at the request of the manager or HR representative though they may be suggested by Occupational Health. They are normally arranged with at least seven days' notice. The request for a case conference should first be discussed between the line manager/HR representative and Occupational Health Advisor to ensure that a case conference is appropriate in the circumstances. If it is agreed this is appropriate, HR will take the lead in communicating this to the employee (and their representative should that be necessary) and setting up the case conference. Case conferences can be chaired by HR or by Occupational Health if requested; this should be agreed prior to the meeting.
In our correspondence with employees we inform them that case conferences and reviews are used at the University, using the following statement:
'Sometimes your employer may ask us for clarification following a report and/or ask to meet us (a case conference). You may also be asked to attend. We may be able to clarify the report and advice given verbally, but we will not answer new or additional questions without consulting you.'
Occupational Health should see the employee shortly before the meeting to have the most up-to-date clinical information and to agree what information can be shared at the meeting, recording the agreement in the notes. It is important that the employee gives appropriate consent to the sharing of clinical information during the case conference and the Occupational Health Advisor will be responsible for this consent process.
When should a case conference take place?
When to call a case conference will vary greatly on a case by case basis. However, in all cases Occupational Health would have first been asked to provide a written report on the employee concerned. For example it may be useful to call a case conference immediately due to difficulties accommodating particular adjustments before an employee returns to work.
Appropriate timescales in the case of on-going difficulties and failure of problems to resolve may vary depending on the severity of the problem and any risk factors involved in the job, as well as how much information regarding the circumstances of the health condition are already known. A timely case conference may help with forward planning to assist with resolution or averting long-term problems.
Where an employee has been off for 6 months or more duration, consideration of a case conference may also be appropriate.
The duration of such meetings may be variable depending on objectives and areas to be discussed; typically 1 to 2 hours should be sufficient. A meeting room large enough to accommodate all parties should be arranged. This may be in the Department or in Human Resources.
Who should be present?
The following people should normally be present at the case conference:
- The employee
- The employee's representative (see below)
- The Line Manager
- An HR representative
- An occupational health advisor/physician
The employee's representative: maybe a work colleague or Trade Union official. Alternatively, the employee may ask to be accompanied, but not represented by, a health worker; advocate or similar professional.
The Occupational Health professional is usually the person dealing with the case and will normally have seen the employee at least once. On occasion, however, the case conference will take place before the Occupational Health professional meets the employee for example when complex circumstances require more explanation from the manager.
The Roles of participants
Individual roles will vary depending on circumstances; however common roles may include the following:
- To clarify and discuss expectations, requirements, possible adjustments and options available including timescales and limitations. These need not be definitive and the manager need not make final decisions during the case conference.
- To clarify and discuss own wishes and requirements including an up-date of current health, any developments, abilities with regard to work and any adjustments required.
- Employee Representative or companion
- To represent and promote employee wishes, abilities and any solutions including possible adjustments. This may be particularly important if for whatever reason, including their current health status, the employee has difficulty communicating these aspects themselves. A companion does not have the right to represent the employee but may communicate the wishes of the employee
- HR Adviser
- To gain a full understanding of the situation; offer advice within the context of the current legislation and University employment policy together with promoting possible solutions.
- Occupational Health
- To clarify regarding health implications for role, possible and solutions, including adjustments and outcomes, to assist the meeting with reference to advice already provided in report form and with reference to guidelines outlined below. To ensure issues of consent are dealt with appropriately.
Care should be taken to avoid substantial differences with the referral form which should already have been discussed with the employee. The aim is not to discuss confidential clinical information.
The HR representative will take notes of the meeting
The outcomes of the meeting need not be pre-determined and may depend on any objectives and the expectations of employer and employee. Further discussion and later decisions may be required, however, it should be hoped that one outcome should be the development towards the resolution of a case.