7th January 2020

Ask the Expert – Occupational Health Referrals

We are frequently asked by employers about occupational health referrals for employees.

The questions we receive generally revolve around what should be included in a referral; when should it be done; and what if an employee refuses to consent to such a referral taking place.

In this  ‘Ask the Expert’  briefing, we aim to provide some answers.

The first thing an employer needs to do when considering making a referral, is to obtain the employee’s consent to do so. In some cases,  there may be a clause in the contract of employment which obliges the employee to give consent. The employer can simply discuss the purpose of the referral with the employee and remind the employee of the clause in the contract.

But what if there is no clause in the contract? In that case, the employer will have to obtain separate written consent.

Employees can, understandably, often be suspicious of an employer’s motives in making a referral. It is therefore important to have a discussion with the employee to explain the reasons behind the referral. A referral is most likely to happen in the course of a long term sickness absence, where the employer needs to understand the relevant medical diagnosis and, more importantly, the prognosis; but it can often happen when an employee isn’t currently absent from work, but there has been a pattern of sporadic short term absences which are a cause for concern.

It is worth remembering that an employee can withdraw consent at any time – right up to the point of the Occupation Health Report being issued. If that does happen, our advice is to have a one to one meeting with the employee and explain in very clear and unambiguous terms, why the Report is needed. Notes should be kept of that conversation. The employee should be left in no doubt that the referral is for the benefit of all concerned, so that any recommendations can be actioned.

If the employee still refuses to consent, then all an employer can do is make a decision on the basis of the information that’s available at that point in time.

On the assumption that consent is given, what should be included in a referral letter? It’s important to bear in mind that the occupational practitioner won’t know either the employee or the employer, so as much detail about the employee’s job and the business department they work in, will be necessary.

The letter should include details of the absences and ask specific, tailored questions of the practitioner. We can assist in the preparation of such a referral letter, tailored to the needs of your business.

And, finally the all – important question: timing. When should the referral be made? Our view is that the sooner the better in most cases, since that is likely to result in a better outcome for both the employer and employee.

This ‘Ask the Expert’ briefing is not a substitute for specific advice. Please do get in touch if you wish to know more.

7th January 2020