Help! I’ve been directed to attend an IME. What do I do?
In most contests, the prepared person wins. With that in mind, do you want the first time you see the letters ‘IME’ to be on an official-looking letter from your employer? If you answered yes: game over, thanks for playing.
IME stands for Independent Medical Exam. The purpose of an IME, broadly, is for your employer to get an “independent review of your condition” (ironic quotes fully intended, please imagine me making air quotes/rabbit ears), and assess to what extent you can perform the inherent requirements of your role.
The specific process leading up to a direction from your employer for you to attend an IME is different in each State. Queensland is notorious for attempting to ‘manage out’ employees using IMEs, in other States the employer may ask that your personal doctor acts as the IME doctor in the first instance.
In all cases, you should be immediately cautious regarding your direction to attend, the manner and scope of your attendance, and any information your employer will have access to as a result of your attendance.
- If you’re returning to work after an injury, your employer can direct you to attend an IME.
- If you’re at work, your employer needs to be reasonably unaware of how to fix the problem/not know what's wrong with you.
- You will likely be asked to attend an IME as part of any Workcover claim. In this case the request will likely come from the insurer and not your employer. The same principles discussed in this article apply.
They have to ask you to sign a release of information separately - ask your union before signing anything.
How did this start?
Every workplace and employer-employee relationship is different; ultimately, you’re either in a good scenario or a bad scenario.
Good scenario: after your injury, your employer is concerned, and compassionate and will consult with you about a mutually agreeable way to move forward.
Bad scenario: employer will direct you to attend an IME in an official-looking, designed-to-be-intimidating letter. This is especially common in state-based employment.
The IME letter will contain the legislation used to justify the direction, and intimate that you will be liable for disciplinary action if you do not attend.
The ultimate result of an IME can range from alternate duties to changing your workplace or surroundings, up to and including termination of employment. Trust us, this is not the kind of gamble you want to take.
In some States, this is often used as a way to ‘manage out’ employees they don’t like.
At this point you can?
- Not worry about it and go to the IME. I can trust my employer and a doctor to have my best interests in mind right?
- Ignore the letter, burn it.
- Experience a relapse and begin the process again.
You should not do any of the above: Contact your union as soon as you get the direction, or before if you can sense the stars aligning against you.
You also have an option to appeal the direction, and this is the best/only time to exercise that option, in consultation with your Red Union case manager.
How to deal with an IME
In any case, speak to your own GP/doctor first and make them your advocate. Their opinion on your injury/journey to recovery is very important. Later, when your employer is trying to poke holes in your position, they’ll need to explain why they know better than your own doctor. Doctors also don't like being second-guessed, especially by bureaucratic and officious employers.
This will create a situation where your employer will need to justify sending you to an IME, and essentially claim that they don't believe your own doctor’s report has merit.
Never ever ever let anyone other than yourself talk to your doctor. They will ask leading questions and cherry pick the least helpful information. Don’t sign any consent forms to release information or anything else.
If you do go to an IME, and you may need to depending on your case, be very prepared and cautious about what is discussed.
Employees are not obliged to consent to a full evaluation. You are allowed to say some things are not relevant. For example, the IME doctor might ask about previous conditions. If what they’re asking about is unrelated, you can say that. They cannot force you to consent to their examination. You just need to attend and participate.
They will make it seem as though you have to do everything the IME doctor says, but at the end of the day they don’t have that authority. Such behaviour would be reportable to AHPRA.
Imporant side note: when you go to an IME the employer owns all the information.
What is the expected result if you follow our advice?
In practical terms, you’ll find that your employer’s compassion is a performance and has a very real limit. It’s probably lower than you think.
- We cannot guarantee a win in your specific case (though we can guarantee that we fight harder than anyone else).
- You’ll gain control over the matter at hand, instead of reacting to things.
- A better negotiating platform with your employer and you will protect the security of your employment. Opening things up to a better outcome in general.
What if I wing it, and don’t do any of that?
If you attend ignorant of the conditions, your employer will use that information to discriminate against you. That’s why it’s crucial to contact us first - if you’ve waived your right to appeal in the first instance it is extremely difficult to undo any damage. That is to say, there is not much point in getting an opinion from your own GP after that.
Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
Are they really independent?
A lot of people may think the direction is benign because it is ‘independent’ and because they trust doctors. Don’t misunderstand me, the majority of doctors are extremely professional, but some know exactly who they work for.
Unfortunately, the IME process attempts to capture your whole medical experience in one hour. Often they are not in person, so they are very impersonal. If you say too much, or lack discipline in what you say, your employer maybe be able to use it against you later or even persecute you for other things that were outside the scope of discussion to begin with.
Proceed with caution.
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