Freshfields trainee Kate Cawthorn recently hit the headlines when she sued her firm for loss of her career as a lawyer, personal injury and psychological distress arising out of her contracting shigella dysentery on a business trip to Ghana.
Although health insurance as part of the employee benefits package is becoming more and more common in many professional practices and financial services institutions, whether other firms can avoid ending up on the wrong end of such a writ from an employee will depend very much on the policy in question.
Arthur Andersen tax partner David Oliver says private health insurance as part of a benefits package is also becoming more common further down the income levels and is no longer restricted to senior solicitors. There are also opt-in and opt-out provisions.
He explains that the facility to have a lawyer who is underperforming through sickness treated as quickly as possible rather than being subject to NHS waiting lists is appreciated by both employers and employees.
Apart from the fact that the employees are given peace of mind, there is also – as it is a taxable benefit – the advantage and attraction of the premium being at a “bulk” rate, and therefore taxed at a lower rate.
But Oliver warns that: “whether the policies taken out by most firms would cover trainees is a matter of reading the small print, which lawyers are used to. Many would only get this benefit if they were qualified – you would have to look at the individual scheme, which would have a number of exclusions.”