Can occupational health sign me off work?

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In this article we will answer the question “Can occupational health sign me off work?”

We will also briefly discuss what Occupational health is, what is the process of occupational health referral, and what are the powers of Occupational health over employee’s terms of employment.

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Can occupational health sign me off work?

No, occupational health cannot sign you off work since the occupational health specialist is not in charge of signing off people from their work, only the manager or the employer of the employee can do that. 

The occupational specialist will perform an assessment of the employee’s state of being and create a report that is sent, with the consent of the employee, related to the needs of the employee so that they can return to their duties, do their job, or address any potential new or ongoing issues.

This report is not a command, rather it is advice to the employer and the employee which means that an occupational health specialist cannot sign off an employee either temporarily or permanently. 

This action of whether the employee needs to be signed off or not is on the manager or the employer based on the report of the assessment of the employee’s medical situation. 

The work of an occupational health specialist involves being hired by a company or an employer to support management of health issues of employees within the workplace and are concerned with how their occupation impacts the health of the employee. 

The occupational health service is essentially a medical service that is responsible for giving advice to employers and managers as well as employees related to their wellbeing in their workplace in terms of mental and physical health.

Occupational health is more or less needed to determine if an employee is fit to work or not if they have taken time off, how long they need time off from work due to their medical issues, as well as to advise employees and employers about accommodations that need to be made in the workplace. 

What powers do Occupational health specialists have?

The occupational health service is essentially a medical service that is responsible for giving advice to employers and managers as well as employees related to their wellbeing in their workplace in terms of mental and physical health.

Occupational health is more or less needed to determine if an employee is fit to work or not if they have taken time off, how long they need time off from work due to their medical issues, as well as to advise employees and employers about accommodations that need to be made in the workplace. 

The occupational specialist will perform an assessment of the employee’s state of being and create a report that is sent, with the consent of the employee, related to the needs of the employee so that they can return to their duties, do their job, or address any potential new or ongoing issues.

For example, 

Maybe you have been off sick with illness or injury for a few weeks, you may be subjected to an occupational health assessment to address the question: can you come back to the same job or do you need support?

Based on the report of the Occupational health specialist, the managers will be advised to make suitable and reasonable adjustments to the job, so you can do it.

Another role of the occupational health specialist in the case you have been absent from work is to assess the following:

To make sure it’s not due to a health problem that can be made worse by work. For example, the stress of the job is making your condition flare up. 

In such cases, where you are ill a lot and tend to call in sick, the occupational health specialist will assess you to understand if there is a health condition that is making you unable to perform at work or attend at work. 

If they do see that there are medical issues, they will make a report that will  advise management of the situation, and go on to make recommendations to improve things for both you and the manager. 

In the case that they have assessed you and found that your absence cannot be explained with a medical condition, the occupational health will not suggest that you be dismissed; however, it is the manager;s call and this could land you in trouble. 

It is not in the power of the occupational health to 

  • send you home sick
  • tell a manager what to do
  • stop work

The recommendations that the occupational health specialists make are based on your unique employment context which they are familiar with because they have been hired by the company you work in. 

So they are aware of what goes on in your role and also understand the opportunities to make adjustments and tweak things so that the employee;s lives are made more comfortable and safer.

The decision to act on the recommendations given are on the manager and the steps they take to manage their workers. They can take the advice of the occupational health report or the specialist and at the same time they can choose to ignore it. The occupational health specialist has no power over the manager or employer.

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.

Conclusion

In this article we answered the question “Can occupational health sign me off work?”

We also briefly discussed what Occupational health is, what is the process of occupational health referral, and what are the powers of Occupational health over employee’s terms of employment.

FAQ related to Can occupational health sign me off work?

What are the types of occupational health hazards?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has defined six main categories of occupational hazards:

  • Safety hazard
  • Chemical hazard
  • Biological hazard
  • Physical hazard
  • Ergonomic hazard
  • Work organisation hazards.

What is the importance of occupational health?

Occupational health as an occupation and role within the work force is very important because it 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.

Why is my employer sending me to occupational health?

The main reason why your employer is referring an employee to occupational health is to help resolve:

  • 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.

References

What Power Does Occupational Health Have? WorkingWellSolutions. Retrieved on 22nd March 2022. https://workingwellsolutions.com/what-power-does-occupational-health-have/

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/

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