Employers can be required to fund private medical treatment as part of a reasonable adjustment to help staff return to work, a court has ruled.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruling applies to specific treatments, rather than just general private healthcare, but is irrespective of whether it is available on the NHS.
It added that this was still the case despite the treatment only having an expected success rate of 50%.
In the case of Croft Vets v Butcher, Mrs Butcher suffered from work related stress as a result of additional responsibilities placed on her due to business expansion and personal circumstances.
A clinical psychiatrist, to whom Croft Vets had referred Mrs Butcher, recommended that consideration be given to funding six psychiatric sessions costing no more than £750.
When Croft Vets did not act on the recommendations made by the clinical psychiatrist, Mrs Butcher resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal and a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
An Employment Tribunal originally found in her favour, noting that those failures amounted to failures to make reasonable adjustments, and the EAT agreed with this decision.
Field Fisher Waterhouse senior associate Caroline Casbolt said the ruling did not mean employers would have to pay for disabled employees' general private medical treatment.
"The issue was not the payment of private medical treatment, but, rather, payment for a specific form of support to enable Mrs Butcher to return to work and cope with the difficulties she had been experiencing at work," she said.
"It does not appear that the issue of whether such treatment was freely available on the NHS within an appropriate time frame was properly explored and this may have an impact on future decisions. It is also worth noting that the treatment costs involved in this matter were not substantial.
"While the EAT did not comment on this issue, it is possible that a different decision would be reached in circumstances where the private medical treatment in question runs to many thousands of pounds," she added.
Serjeants' Inn barrister Rad Kohanzad echoed this view, noting that such adjustments were for a specific form of support to enable the Claimant to return to work and cope with the difficulties she had been experiencing at work.
"Furthermore, although the consultant psychiatrist only gave the treatment a 50% chance of success, he thought that it would certainly lead to a significant improvement in the Claimant's depression. On that basis, the EAT held that such adjustments were reasonable because they would mitigate the effect of the provision, criteria or practice (PCP)," he said.
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