In this guide, we will answer the question “Can occupational health sign me off work?”, how to know if your workplace has occupational health policies or schemes, what happens during an occupational health assessment, types of sickness absence, and some additional topics to consider.
Can occupational health sign me off work?
Occupational health is not in charge of signing people off work since it is actually a medical service that can help support employees and employees and help promote their wellbeing in the workplace (both mental and physical health).
When an employee has been signed off for a long time or they are returning back to work, their employer may ask for advice from occupational health, causing them to worry. When occupational health has performed their assessment, they need to report back to the employer so they can understand what the employee needs to feel better, return to their duties, do their job, or address any potential new or ongoing issues.
As an employee, you don’t have to agree with the occupational assessment but it can be a good idea as they can help you get any support you might need or get back to work faster.
Does your workplace use occupational health?
If you are not sure, ask your employer if they have an occupational health policy. This should state the following:
- when an occupational health referral or assessment can be made
- how, where and by who it’s carried out
- what both the employer and employee need to do
- what the next steps are
If your employer does not have an occupational health policy or scheme then, employers should take the advice from the employee and the employee’s doctor.
What happens in an occupational health assessment?
According to the ACAS website, the occupational health adviser might ask the employee about:
- their health problem
- any treatment they’re having
- any concerns they have about returning to work
“Sometimes the occupational health adviser might need to get more information from the employee’s doctor. In this case, the employee should be told the reason and asked to sign a consent form.”
Going for an occupational health assessment does not mean your manager or your boss needs to make sure you are genuinely sick or they don’t trust your GP. Just want to get a second opinion and find the best option available to make sure you get back to work as soon as possible.
Types of sickness absence
There are two types of sickness absence, short-term and long-term absence (more than four weeks). And as workingwellsolutions.com indicates, “Short-term absences (STA) is more disruptive to an organization than long-term absence (LTA); even though the number of days off sick for long-term absence can go on for a year or more sometimes.”
Short-Term Absence Issues include:
- STA is unplanned
- Workers can call in sick any day
- Workers are self-diagnosing a health problem
- Just think if everyone called in sick one day – what would you have to do to keep your department going?
- Others tend to copy this type of behaviour
- Workers who have regular days off sick get little sympathy from the rest of the team
- Most companies offer sick pay and the fraudulent employee is getting money for nothing
Long-Term Absence Issues include:
- Managers can often get a temporary replacement for the worker
- Managers get Fit Notes from a GP which means you have seen a Doctor
- There will be a reason for absence on the Fit Note which gives the Manager some idea of what the problem is and how long the illness is likely to last; this allows Managers to get extra cover
- There are no last-minute surprises with an employee phoning in every day. It is a real panic sometimes to cover that day’s workload at short notice
- Others in the team feel sympathy for those who have a long-term illness
- Sick pay eventually runs out and there is no real cost to keeping a sick employee on the books
How does your employer use an occupational health assessment?
The occupational health assessment combined with the doctor’s medical report can actually add more to the current health of the employee by focusing on:
- How an employee does their job
- How their job may affect their health.
Most employers are inclined to consider the recommendations of both reports and if there is conflicting advice they will need to talk to the employee and agree on the best course of action.
According to ACAS “The occupational health adviser will check with the employee first that they can show their report to the employer. The employer and employee can then plan the best course of action to help the employee back to work.”
As part of the course of action, an employee may agree to:
- A phased return to work either reducing their working hours or lighter duties.
- A referral to other professionals such as counselling or physiotherapy, depending on the case.
- Reasonable adjustments to the workplace.
- More time off work to recover.
Occupational health and short-term sickness absence
If you have been absent more than three times during the same month or you have been taking Monday or Friday off regularly. This gets noticed by your employer and they will suggest you have an occupational health assessment trying to figure out if there is a health condition affecting your attendance.
If you go to the occupational health interview, they will give you the opportunity to discuss your absence and the reason why you were off sick. Make sure you remember what happened on the appointed dates, but it is usual you won’t remember all the details. Just be clear on the symptoms you had those dates and how they prevented you from going to work.
Moreover, the occupational health nurse or doctor will find a pattern if you have been sick for the same reason and will make suggestions on how to deal with it to avoid any future absence. However, if your absences are for different reasons, for instance, a cold, migraine, and bad back then they will be considered as random. This means there is little they can advise on to help you improve your absence.
Occupational health long-term absence
As discussed, a long-term absence means you have been off work four weeks or longer. Occupational health plays the role of an enabler, helping you return to work safely.
The process of referral to occupational health includes (workingwellsolutions.com):
- Your Manager needs more information about your health and when you are likely to come back to work. Fit notes usually cover four weeks absence at a time, so a referral helps your Manager make plans to cover for your absence and return to work.
- If you agree to talk to occupational health, they call and talk about your health situation. They may suggest your manager to remove barriers when you come back by suggesting rehabilitation programs, regular visits to work before fully returning, change of our job (temporarily), reduced hours, or working from home.
- As your time to go back to work approaches, the contact will increase.
Medical records from your GP
Your employer may ask for information about your ability to come back to work and maybe they will require clarification about any aspect of your work. In this case, OH may ask for a medical report from your GP. However, to be able to do this they will need your permission or “consent” to obtain such information.
Why is this blog about can occupational health sign me off work important?
As discussed, signing you off work is not the job of occupational health. They have a different type of role where they ensure you get the support you need to get back to work as soon as possible. This is why it is important to be informed of any occupational health policies at your workplace.
In addition, if you receive a call from your manager asking you to talk to occupational health it doesn’t mean you are in trouble or your manager does not trust you have been sick. This is just an additional help (besides your GP) to have a clearer picture of your overall health and how your employer can help you make reasonable adjustments to your workplace, such as reducing your hours or working from home so you can feel much better.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about can occupational health sign me off work
Can occupational health make you go back to work?
Occupational health can’t make you go back to work per se, you can always disagree with their proposal but consider that the government allows an employer to give precedence to the views of an occupational health practitioner over those of a GP. If you think you can’t go back to work yet, you need to tell your employer the reasons for not going back to work.
Can occupational health overrule a doctor’s note?
Occupational health may overrule a GP’s advice in a fit note as to whether or not an employee is potentially fit to go back to work. Your employer has the right to gather other evidence about your health condition by consulting another doctor or healthcare professional.
What does occupational health do for employees?
Occupational health is the branch of medicine that focuses on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in their workplace. Their aim is to prevent work-related illness and injury.
Why is my employer sending me to occupational health?
If your employer is sending you to occupational health is to help resolve a situation where an employee’s health might be affected due to their fitness to carry their job or their job making them ill.
Do employers have to follow occupational health recommendations?
Employers do not have to follow occupational health recommendations but if the case reached court they may need to justify why they didn’t. When advised to make reasonable adjustments to your workplace, your employer needs to determine whether they are in fact reasonable and if they are valid business reasons why they are not.
Acas.org.uk: “Using occupational health at work”
Workingwellsolutions.com: “OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH ROLE IN ABSENCE”