The Best Occupational health referral questions

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Page last updated: 14/06/2022

The Best Occupational health referral questions

In this blog we present to you some important Occupational health referral questions. 

These questions need to be asked and discussed before you make a referral to an occupational health specialist. 

We will also briefly discuss what occupational health is, what an occupational health referral is, and how one can make an occupational health referral.

Best Occupational health referral questions

According to FusionHR, here are some important questions that you should be asking in the referral that will help you to get the most out of your referral:

  • How long would you expect their condition to last?
  • What are the likely causes of the condition(s)?
  • Could the condition be aggravated by the workplace or their role?
  • What treatment (if any) is the employee currently receiving for the condition(s)? 
  • In the specialist’s opinion, given the medical history, how effective is the current treatment likely to be?
  • What medication (if any) is prescribed for the condition(s)? 
  • What is the effect of the medication and how effective is the current treatment likely to be?
  • Is it possible that the employee’s condition could deteriorate further?
  • Does an employee have a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010?
  • If an employee have a disability, what substantial adverse and long-term effects does the condition(s) have upon the employee’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities?
  • In your opinion, is the employee fit to continue working in their current role?
  • What are the aspects of the role the employee is not fit to continue?
  • What are some duties that require adjustments (by reference to the job description).
  • Are there any adjustments (of either temporary or permanent nature) which could be considered in order to enable the employee to return to their role?
  • Are there any recommendations regarding the hours that the employee may be able to work and the frequency of their attendance at work?
  • Is a phased return is recommended, please confirm on what basis?
  • Is there any other relevant information that will help us to deal with the current situation and assist in getting them back to work.

What is occupational health?

Occupational health is one area of the public health domain that is concerned with the physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations.

This area of public health involves promoting, advocating, and maintaining the highest degree of well-being for workers in the workplace across various occupations. 

The main role of occupational health within the workforce is to support management of health issues of employees within the workplace and are concerned with how their occupation impacts the health of the employee. 

It is important to mention that occupational health, while they are occeneed about how the work or the workplace might impact on the employee, it is also focused on how the employees’ health may impact on their performance at work. 

Occupational health within the workplace provides support to employees by interpreting medical information of employees in the case that they are unwell and to present it to Managers in a way that allows for employee advocacy as well as makes rooms for accommodations to support the employee in the workplace.

The support they provide includes providing advice to both the managers and supervisors as well as the employees in areas related to:

  • How the medical condition impacts an employee’s ability to work and perform well on the job as well as the impact it has on their ability to carry out their responsibilities. 
  • Workplace adjustments and accommodations for the employees well being such as reducing work hours or workload. 
  • Time scales for the return of employees to work in the case they wish to take a medical leave of absence. 
  • Advice and referrals to Counselling and Psychological Services or any medical services. 
  • Providing employees with information related to employees fitness to return to work and  remain at their present role.

Occupational health specialists are the professionals that employees often reach out for guidance on the issues mentioned above.

What is an occupational health referral?

The occupational health referral is a process that is designed to provide advice to both employees and employers for concerns that relate to the employee’s health and their ability to do their job.

The process involves consent between employee and employer with a contractual agreement for the employee to provide such consent and to partake in a medical examination process.

In a situation where there is no contractual agreement, the employee must be made to understand that the lack of agreement may impact the employer’s ability to make a fully informed decision about the position.

Lack of consent will not stall the process, and a decision will be made based on available information which might not give the full picture of the employee’s situation. 

Thus it must be understood by the employee that this process of referral and examination is only designed to help them and is in their interest as well as information related to what the referral process will involve.

According to HRZone, referrals are made with the objective of:

  • obtaining information when an employee is on long-term sickness; usually information related to prognosis.
  • finding out if the employee’s is suffering from an underlying health condition which may be causing short-term intermittent sickness that can impact employee’s work 
  • establishing whether or not the employee is fit to attend a disciplinary or performance hearing

Some of the common reasons when a manager refers an employee to Occupational health include:

  • Situations where an employee has been absent from work on a number of occasions in recent weeks/months 
  • Situations where an employee is absent on a long-term basis that has been over a month.
  • Situations where particular patterns have been identified in an employee’s absence 
  • Situations where a potential health problem has been identified and how it impacts the employee’s ability to work.
  • Situation where an Occupational Health assessment is required for employee’s return
  • to work

How to make an occupational health referral?

Here are the following steps an employer or a manager should follow for an efficient and effective referral of an employee to Occupational Health:

Be clear

As an employer or a manager, you should be clear about the reason for which you are sending the employee for the OH referral.

To be clear, you will have to ask the OH practitioner a series of questions related to whether this OH referral is needed as well as how it can impact the employee’s current role. 

It is important that the questions you ask are specific and not vague and straight to the point. According to FusionHR, some of these questions include:

  • Is this employee medically fit to work in this role?
  • When, if absent, are they likely to be able to return to work?
  • Are any adjustments needed to help the employee in their work?
  • Are there any restrictions on what the employee can do in their role?
  • Is the employee receiving the appropriate medical care and support?
  • Is the employee’s illness caused or exacerbated by their work?
  • If the employee is taking medication, is it likely to impair their ability to do their job?

Obtain consent

You will then have to make the OH referral followed with the consent of the employee to join the meeting or the sessions with the OH specialist.

The process involves consent between employee and employer with a contractual agreement for the employee to provide such consent and to partake in a medical examination process. Usually, the requirement is added to the employee’s employment contract. 

In a situation where there is no contractual agreement, the employee must be made to understand that the lack of agreement may impact the employer’s ability to make a fully informed decision about the position.

Lack of consent will not stall the process, and a decision will be made based on available information which might not give the full picture of the employee’s situation.

Writing the referral

You will then have to write a referral of the employee to the OH specialist. For this, background information is very important.

In cases where you suspect there could be an underlying condition, it is important that you obtain a medical report from the employee to assess whether the employee is fit for work or eligible for disability. 

Information on background and medical history given to the OH specialist can be done via documents mailed or via phone call etc. 

Information that must be included for this includes:

  • the employee’s job role, hours or work and particular aspects of the work which maybe are causing the employee a problem
  • the relevant history of absence, the durations, reasons given by the employee, and whether any previous reports have been provided
  • details of any adjustments which have already been implemented and their effectiveness
  • The information should deal with the present issue and not a former medical issue. 

The specific reason for the referral should also be clearly stated and the employee should also be able to see the document and sign off on it. 

The consultation

Once information has been sent, there will be a consultation where during the consultation, the OH practitioner will take all of the details that have been provided, including medical reports from the medical practitioner of the employee and go through it. 

In some cases where there are no medical reports, there will be a medical examination- usually done by an independent medical professional that the employee will be subjected to under consent. 

The OH practitioner is not a professional who does the medical examination nor do they treat the employees they are present to assess the condition and make suggestions to the employees and employers concerned with how they can move forward regarding employees job and role. 

The report

Following the consultation, a report is made that is written by the OH practitioner.

The employees have a right to see the report before anyone else and requires their consent to be sent across to their manager or employer.

Usually the employee will  be given a few days to see the report and at this time, the employee can ask for facts to be corrected.

While the OH specialist needs to change information if the employee disagrees with it and there is no factual evidence,the report should mention any differences of opinion.

The report will usually mention the condition, medical situation, and answer any questions that have been specifically brought up. 

The report is then sent to the manager as well as to the employee, HR representative and, in some cases, the employee’s GP.

Moving things forward

Once the manager has received the report, they will review it and take any recommended action for the wellbeing of the employee such as- leave, accommodations and adjustments.

The report should include recommendations and suggest potential adjustments that could  help resolve the situation completely.

Conclusion

In this blog we presented to you some important Occupational health referral questions. 

We also briefly discussed what occupational health is, what an occupational health referral is, and how one can make an occupational health referral.

References

Booth.S. Top tips to get the best from your occupational health provider. HRZone. Retrieved on 24th March 2022. https://www.hrzone.com/engage/employees/top-tips-to-get-the-best-from-your-occupational-health-provider

Six best-practice tips on how to make an occupational health referral. Fusion Occupational Health. Retrieved on 24th March 2022. https://www.fusionoh.com/blog/how-to-make-occupational-health-referral

Occupational Health Referrals. Guide. University of Glasgow. Retrieved on 24th March 2022. https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_554573_smxx.pdf

Questions to ask when you are submitting an Occupational Health Referral. FusionHR. Retrieved on 24th March 2022. https://www.fusionbusiness.org.uk/occupationalhealthreferral/