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When should an employer refer to Occupational Health?

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As an employer, the physical and mental wellbeing of your staff should always be a top priority. Occupational Health is a key component in achieving this goal and in this article, our Employment Law team detail what Occupational Health is, when you should refer to Occupational Health and what preventative measures they can assist with.

What is Occupational Health?

Occupational Health teams keep your employees well at work, both physically and mentally. They manage any risks in the workplace that are likely to lead to work-related ill health and they also help you ascertain the nature of an illness and give practical advice on how to support your employees back to work.

When should I refer to Occupational Health?

There are many instances where an Occupational Health referral will be appropriate, including:

  • There are indications of factors in the workplace contributing to the sickness absence;
  • Several absences are noted for the same cause on the attendance record;
  • There is a continued concern about short-term sickness absence despite informal discussions;
  • The employee requests a referral;
  • The employee has a fit note stating that they are unfit for work but does not wish to wait until the expiry of the fit note before returning to work;
  • There is a case of long-term sickness absence, including the management of return to work;
  • There are concerns that an employee's health may lead to sickness absence (preventative advice).

Occupational Health reports can also be useful for considering candidates, especially if issues of health have been raised in your recruitment process. They can help to ensure the process is dealt with fairly and to minimise any risks of discrimination claims arising.

The government is currently gathering employers’ and Occupational Health providers’ thoughts on how Occupational Health services can be improved. The Occupational Health plans it has committed to include:

  • considering whether to introduce vouchers and subsidies for small and medium size enterprises and the self-employed to access Occupational Health support
  • gathering data around the Occupational Health workforce to consider whether it is able to meet demand
  • working with partners to encourage a significant increase of Occupational Health exploring ways the government can support training opportunities or existing postgraduate courses to alleviate pressures on the Occupational Health workforce.

How can Occupational Health be used as a preventative measure?

In a poll by health and wellbeing provider BHSF, 80% of Human Resources decision-makers said they offered their staff access to Occupational Health but only 26% admitted they were familiar with any leading providers of Occupational Health. Most of those polled associated Occupational Health with getting staff on sick leave back to work rather than in preventing absence with early intervention.

Employers should remember Occupational Health services not just when the employee is off sick but from the moment they first have concerns about the employee so they can receive advice and assistance in managing such concerns effectively. Such advice will be specific to the management of health conditions at work and any support and/or reasonable adjustments that should be considered.

If you have an employee who you think could benefit from an Occupational Health referral but you’re unsure on how to start, you can contact our Employment team on 023 8071 7717 or email them at


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.