Why should employers use Occupational Health?

The benefits for both employer and employee of using Occupational Health (OH) can be substantial.

Health can both affect a person’s work and be affected by it. Whether this is adversely, such as high levels of absenteeism, stress or occupational illness; or beneficially through increased engagement, performance and wellbeing. The outcome of this can be significantly improved by making use of OH.

What is Occupational Health?

As the NHS states “Occupational health teams keep people well at work – physically and mentally. Occupational health services will help keep your employees healthy and safe whilst in work and manage any risks in the workplace that are likely to give rise to work-related ill health.”

Every year over 170 million days are lost to sickness absence, affecting  business. The longer people are off sick, the less likely they are to make a successful return to work. Research also shows that after six months absence from work, there is only a 50% chance of someone making a successful return.

OH focuses on the relationship between work and health, looking at both the patient/employee and the business. It is a specific speciality of medicine, found located within large businesses with responsibility for emergency care and training on site, or independent private clinics

When should you refer an employee?

As a manger you have a duty of care to support your employees and their wellbeing. This means ensuring the people under your supervision are not being made ill by work, or having a possible illness or condition affect their role.

You should considering referring an employee to OH when:

  • They have had several episodes of short-term absences
  • The employee has had a long term or continuous health related absence
  • There is concern that they may have work related health problems or that existing health problems are being intensified by work
  • They may have difficulties coping on return after being absent, such as following a serious illness or disability.
  • There may be an underlying health factor contributing to performance issues.

Are there any barriers to OH?

As a manager, you may feel uncomfortable referring an employee to OH. There may be budgetary restraints or a lack of knowledge around the employee’s health. You may also feel hesitant to invade their privacy, especially as health and the less recognisable conditions such as those regarding mental health are still seen as taboo topics.

However, the benefits of using Occupational Health to support you and your employee far outweigh any negative reactions. The use of OH improves not only the wellbeing of your employee but also the productivity of the company.

How does it work?

You must inform the employee if and when you believe a referral to OH is necessary. You will need their consent, but the OH service can deal with this. The OH will then arrange a confidential assessment of the employee’s health, wellbeing, suitability for their role and other factors.

You will then be sent a report including the following, depending on circumstances:

  • whether there is a health or wellbeing issue which may affect the employee’s attendance or performance at work.
  • how it may affect their attendance or performance, including time needed for appointments, when they will be ready to return to work.
  • recommendations on measures that may assist them on their return to work
  • recommendations on alternative duties or adjustments by agreement with management if they are unable to perform their usual role
  • If the Equality Act may apply and if reasonable adjustments are required.

If you would like further information on the role and benefits of OH, contact me today



The Most Common (and Expensive!) HR Mistakes You Can Make

I often find the same problems in most of the companies I work with; and they are often very easily rectified. Here are my top three common HR mistakes, and what you can do as a manager to make sure they don’t apply to you!

1. Missing out on expert advice

In my experience, HR managers often feel they have to deal with situations themselves and miss out on valuable advice, particularly with regards to Occupational Health. You don’t know how much you can pry into the details of an employee’s illness, for example, and therefore you can be guilty of letting the problem get out of hand. Making the wrong call can be an expensive one, increasing the risk of a tribunal claim.

Securing the right HR, legal or medical advice at the right point not only helps you, but referring someone to an expert can also nudge the employee themselves into action.

2. Avoiding difficult performance conversations

People often contact me first and don’t speak to the employee themselves. You need to stop being kind and manage the situation.

Not talking about your concerns with an employee early enough, or with enough authority, can lead to more problems later. This can also seriously impact on your credibility within the business. Your team will get fed up of carrying an employee who isn’t performing as well – and you will get the blame. You need to manage your credibility as well as the employees within your team.

3. Brushing off Banter

This can be something as innocent as a Birthday or Retirement card, but it still has the potential to offend. Comments about peoples’ ages, mentioning that it’s time to retire, sexual innuendo, and so on; may be intended to amuse or provide a bit of light hearted entertainment but you must make your staff aware that even the simplest things can often cause offence in the workplace. I had an example of this recently with a simple retirement card. Comments that were made in jest actually caused the employee offence.

You need to be aware of the implications of workplace banter and put training in place so your staff are aware too. Banter can very easily turn into harassment.

If any of these apply to you (and I’m sure that they will) talk to me today to make sure the policies, procedures and training are put in place so they don’t result in increase costs and issues further down the line.

For more on common HR mistakes, read this article from the CIPD

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