This article covers the topic of Occupational Health Referrals.
In the last few years, there has been a significant increase in long term work related absence, much of it in connection with mental health, stress and anxiety but also being driven by symptoms of long- Covid.
Whatever the cause of the absence, it causes operational issues within the business and whilst the vast majority of employers want to be supportive to employees who are genuinely suffering ill health, there will invariably come a point where the employer has to make some difficult decisions.
Without doubt, such decisions are never easy and often, not without risk depending on the circumstances.
In most cases, it is appropriate for the employer to be considering some form of independent medical report so that any decisions are being made with up to date, reliable clinical information.
The often means doing – what is often called – an Occupational Health (OH) referral.
What is an Occupational Health referral?
An OH referral can be made at any time with the employee’s consent if the employee is either off work or complaining about ill or mental health issues but continuing to work.
A referral is made to an OH Doctor who specialises in workplace occupational health.
The process is quite straight forward – after referral, the OH Doctor contacts the employee and they arrange a consultation which can either be in person, via video call or merely over the phone. The OH Doctor will normally begin by explaining the role of Occupational Health and clarifying that the employee has given consent.
Typically, the Doctor will discuss the employee’s current health condition, the background/context and reasons for absence. If the referral is related to mental health and stress, the possible causes of the stress will be discussed. The employee will be asked about what consultations have taken place with either their GP or specialist consultants and about medication – and possible side effects of the medication.
The OH Doctor will also discuss the employee’s thoughts and plans on return to work and any concerns/issues regarding a return. It may suggest part time or phased return, adjustments to the role ie lighter duties or a less demanding role. It might conclude that it would be difficult for the employee to return to their current job.
Depending on the ill health, they may discuss therapy, counselling and/or further external help or they may even discuss lifestyle issues which may be a contributing factor.
The OH Doctor writes a report on the consultation which the employee sees and they confirm their agreement for the report to be issued to the employer.
If the issues are stress related, it is likely that the OH report will suggest a stress risk assessment to identify factors that trigger stress.
Does the employer have to adopt the recommendations of an OH Report?
No, the recommendations in an OH Report are only advisory and in some cases, it may not be practicable for a Company to adopt the recommendations as this will depend on the size of the business, resources, number of employees etc.
However, if a Company decides to initiate an OH referral, it would be somewhat foolish to choose to disregard the recommendations of a clinical specialist.
Does an employee have a right to be accompanied at an OH referral?
There is no statutory right and normally, the employee would engage with OH on a 1-1 basis. In some situations, the employee may want a partner with them but normally it is 1-1 because during an OH consultation, issues regarding health and medical history will be discussed so it is not usual for people to be accompanied.
Does an employee have to agree to an OH referral?
No – although it is possible that some employees have clauses in their contracts where they agree to independent medical referrals.
But an employee can object and if they choose to do so, it should be pointed out that the purpose of the OH referral is for the Company to get better insight into the employee’s health and that if the employee refuses an OH referral, the employer will be compelled to make decisions which may affect continued employment without the benefit of a clinical report.
What happens after the OH Report has been produced?
It is quite common for a meeting to be arranged between employer and employee to discuss the findings of the report and the issues raised. In some cases, this could lead to a discussion about the employee’s capability to do the job and ultimately, such discussions could lead to termination of employment.
Are OH Reports confidential?
Yes – needless to say, OH reports are highly confidential and contain sensitive medical information. In most cases, eferrals are initiated through the HR function but not all Companies have an HR team.
How much is an OH referral?
Costs will vary but they are rarely less than about £375 and the Company meets the cost.
If you want advice on any of the issues raised, Adrian Berwick gives practical advice and support – either call 07885 714771 or e-mail email@example.com