Referring employees to occupational health
Being faced with a health problem at work can be difficult. Referring an employee to occupational health can provide advice about how to support a medical condition. It can suggest changes to a role or environment that may help, or let you know how a condition may progress in the future.
Occupational health is much more than managing sickness absence. There are some key steps to consider, to make the most of the process.
Following our top tips will help you get the most from taking professional advice. That will help you reduce your risks and avoid making mistakes when referring to occupational health.
What about occupational health consent?
You may need your employee’s consent to participate in an occupational health assessment. Often it can depend upon what’s in your contracts of employment. However, it’s best to be cautious and ensure you have explicit consent to participate – and to share your employees’ personal information with an external provider.
How you position an assessment with your employee can make a huge difference too. It’s natural that some employees may feel anxious about being referred to occupational health. It’s best to be open and transparent, for example, you could consider these tips:
ü Do say “we’d like to pay for professional medical advice so we can learn what we could do to help support you”
û Don’t say “you’re being sent to occupational health because we don’t believe what you’re telling us”
Many occupational health providers will ask you to complete formal steps with an employee on their behalf. However, we’re pleased to take those steps on your behalf.
How to get the best from occupational health?
Occupational health works best when the whole process is transparent. Everything is discoverable too, so it’s always best to be factual and specific in any communications with a provider.
Occupational health providers cannot keep anything from an employee too, unless sharing the information might be a risk to their health. and Unison also have some useful information and guidance for employers too.
It’s best to discuss the questions you have with the employee, before asking the provider. It can be really difficult to provide useful advice if the employee has no idea why the assessment is being conducted.
We’re obliged to give a copy of our report to the employee, if they ask for it, so they can check it for factual accuracy. We don’t have to change any of the opinions or advice in the report, if we’re asked to do so, unless it is factually incorrect.
What conditions can be assessed?
The most common conditions we support are anxiety, stress, depression, long-covid, bad backs, physical problems, cardiac issues, strokes, menopause, dependency issues, repeated short-term absence from work and post-surgical rehabilitation.
Our doctors and nurses all have specialist qualifications in occupational health and at least fifteen years’ post-graduate experience. That means the advice they provide is always robust and defensible.
Many of our team have individual specialist interests and experience, such as menopause, ASD/ADHD and mental health conditions like stress or depression.
What are the best questions to ask occupational health?
The best questions to ask are always “open” questions; starting with ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘which’, ‘how’, ‘who’, for example. Using an open questions will ensure that as much information is provided in the report as possible. However, if you only want to know if an employee is fit to work, then a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer may be perfectly acceptable.
If you’d like to ask about what adjustments could be considered to support someone, it’s sometimes worth considering including the steps you have already taken, to give the assessing clinician as much context as possible.
For example, crafting a question as “We’ve recently adjusted the employee’s hours and targets, what else could we consider doing to support them?” could be helpful. It will certainly help avoid the clinician giving you advice that you’ve already tried.
The Society of Occupational Medicine has some relevant advice about questions to consider asking too.
How long does it take to refer to occupational health?
Occupational health providers will need you to submit a referral in writing (we use an online system). Referral forms are usually in a standardised format, so the provider can demonstrate that they’ve conducted an independent and objective assessment, if they ever need to.
As a minimum, most referral forms will ask you to share the employee’s contact details, the reason for the referral, a summary of what’s led to the referral, the questions you’d like answering and possibly copies of any GP/Specialist reports you may already have.
If you gather the information you need together before making a referral, the process shouldn’t usually take more than 10 or 15 minutes to complete.
It can often take some time to arrange an occupational health assessment. Many providers commonly have a lead time of two weeks or more to arrange an appointment.
We’re pleased to be able to provide occupational health assessments nationwide, within two days of a request. It can sometimes take a day or two longer if you need to specify a male or female doctor.
How long does it take to get the report back?
Sometimes health conditions can take time to fix, or even to diagnose, yet occupational health advice can always be provided quickly. We provide assessments within two days of a request and our reports are provided quickly too.
We need up to 24 hours to create our reports and we have to give the employee two days to check the report is factually correct, if they ask to see it, before it is released to you.
Very rarely, employees can refuse consent to release the report. You’re then able to make business decisions based upon what you do know about the case.
The GMC has some very useful scenarios to consider if an employee disagrees with an occupational health opinion.
There’s more information in our ‘what to expect from occupational health’ guide. Please don’t hesitate to contact our team of specialists at any time too.
About Occupational Health Assessment Ltd
Occupational Health Assessment Ltd provides rapid access to expert occupational health support for businesses across the United Kingdom. Appointments are available within two days.