14 Jan 2015

Bosses call time on stress leave

6:42 pm on 14 January 2015

An employers group says workplace stress is not a medical condition and should not be listed as a cause of illness on a medical certificate.

However, the Medical Council has hit back at the criticism, saying that

workplace stress

Photo: AFP

The comments came after a recent Employment Relations Authority case where a diagnosis of workplace stress resulted in seven weeks of sick leave.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association's safety and industrial relations spokesman Paul Jarvie said the diagnosis of workplace stress was unhelpful and subjective.

He said guidelines issued by the former Department of Labour (DOL), now Worksafe NZ, would not accept stress as a diagnosis.

"DOL, and ACC won't accept stress as a diagnosis, so why should other agencies?" he said.

"So really it's about having some level playing field, it's about saying if we're going to use the [term] workplace stress then let's define it," he said.

"Let's understand what it is, and more importantly what it isn't, because it's a very subjective term."

Mr Jarvie said a diagnosis should be more explicit and state what was causing the stress so the employer could help fix it.

He said because medical certificates were legal documents, there needed to be more rigour regarding how doctors filled them out.

Health and safety laws required employers to try to fix work-related problems if they were making staff unwell.

A 2004 document from the Department of Labour, recommended how the certification for stress could be determined.

The report said that a diagnosis of an employee's condition should be identified, such as acute anxiety disorder or depression.

It also said work place factors that were attributed, such as shift work without adequate recuperative time, should be defined.

This would give employers enough information to determine what work factors, if any, may be causing the harm, the report said.

Dr Steve Culpan, who specialises in occupational health, said stressed employees should to be supported to stay at work.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association and the Employment Court needed to work out how to deal with cases. "Encourage employees to engage with the employer straight away in a supportive counselling system, to work out the source of stress, encourage them to stay at work, perhaps doing work from home or work not under that direct manager, and accept that just staying away from work won't solve any problem."

Doctors were not taught to write medical certificates, Dr Culpan said, and there was no standardised certificate set up by the Medical Council.

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