Coronavirus pandemic leads to increase in queries to MDU employment advice line

The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increasing number of GPs and practice staff contacting the Medical Defence Union's (MDU) free employment law advice line for support and advice on issues including personal conduct, sick leave and staff grievances.

From the first national lockdown in March 2020 until February 2021, the advice line, which the MDU has run in collaboration with global HR and employment law consultancy Peninsula since 2008, received 2,860 enquiries (both calls and emails) from MDU members.

The top five reasons for medical professionals requesting advice were:

  • absence – 684 enquiries (24%)
  • conduct – 665 enquiries (23%)
  • terms and conditions of contracts – 354 enquiries (12%)
  • general advice on issues including resigning, recruitment and references – 270 enquiries (9%)
  • grievance procedures – 190 enquiries (7%)

Sick leave remained the most popular reason for an absence-related enquiry. In 2019/20, there were 502 queries relating to sick leave. This decreased slightly in 2020/21 to 444. However, the number of absence queries concerning medical capability, for example, queries about a health condition which affects an employee either attending work or performing their role effectively, jumped from 52 in 2019/20 to 132 in 2020/21.

Resignation was the most popular reason for a MDU member to contact the advice line with a general enquiry. Again, these figures rose from 94 enquiries in 2019/20 to 136 in 2020/21.

Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services at the MDU said:

"Both GPs and practice staff are used to dealing with high-pressure situations and making difficult decisions but the pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges and also presented many new ones.

"At the MDU, our role is to advise, support and lessen the burden on members and as such we encourage them to contact the employment advice line early if they are aware of a situation which may escalate further." 

Nicola Morgan, head of marketing at the MDU explained:

"Doctors and practice staff are becoming increasingly aware of employment law and want to make sure they follow good practice and comply with the law and regulations, such as those laid down by the GMC and the CQC.

"It is reassuring to know that our members can access expert advice on employment issues that might affect the running of their practice during these challenging times."

Kate Palmer, HR advice director and consultancy director at Peninsula said:

"Employment law and HR can be daunting, and GPs and practice managers are naturally keen to minimise the risk of getting embroiled in an employment tribunal.

"By collaborating with the MDU, we are delighted to be able to help members, through our expert advice, understand how to apply the laws and regulations in their organisations and to ensure any issues are dealt with timely and appropriately."

MDU members have access to the free 24-hour employment law advice line as part of the MDU’s GROUPCARE program.

More information on how to set up and access the GROUPCARE scheme can be found on the MDU website.

This page was correct at publication on 13/04/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.