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October 2020

Failure to be medically assessed gives rise to lawful dismissal

Failure to be medically assessed gives rise to lawful dismissal

The Case

Hudson v RMIT University (2020)

RMIT University (RMIT) employed Dr Hudson for 26 years. Dr Hudson was absent from work due to illness for a prolonged period. RMIT directed Dr Hudson to attend independent medical assessments so it could consider whether she could return to work to perform the inherent requirements of her job.

Dr Hudson refused to obtain the assessments, claiming she could not attend or when she did attend, the doctor was not available. When asked to obtain her own assessment, she failed to provide one.

Dr Hudson refused to comply with RMIT’s direction to complete a medical information form and lodged a privacy complaint. Dr Hudson’s refusal continued despite RMIT’s Privacy Officer confirming the legitimacy of RMIT’s requests.

Dr Hudson unilaterally amended the medical information form and refused to sign the consent.

The enterprise agreement that applied to Dr Hudson’s employment stated that repeated refusal to attend an independent medical assessment would provide prima facie evidence that the employee was unable to perform the inherent requirements of the job and hence would not be able to return to work.

RMIT advised Dr Hudson that it was considering terminating her employment due to her inability to perform the inherent requirements of the position. Dr Hudson confirmed she would not comply with RMIT’s directions.

After Dr Hudson had been off work for 13 months, RMIT terminated her employment. Dr Hudson lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

The Verdict

The FWC held:

  • RMIT had a valid reason for dismissing Dr Hudson, namely, she was unable to perform the inherent requirements of her job;
  • RMIT had provided many opportunities to Dr Hudson to provide medical evidence and had been flexible in the options provided;
  • RMIT had complied with the relevant enterprise agreement; and
  • Dr Hudson had dragged the matter out, wanting RMIT to comply with her demands.

The Lessons

Refusal to comply with an employer’s direction to attend a medical examination can provide a valid reason to dismiss an employee. The failure to comply with the request, may enable an employer to conclude that the employee cannot perform the inherent requirements of the job and hence cannot return to work.

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