Sickness absence can be extremely expensive, potentially disruptive and can have a significant impact on the productivity and welfare of colleagues due to increased workloads. A good Occupational Health (“OH”) specialist can be the key for the effective absence management to the benefit of the employer and, often the employee.
What should you expect from a good Occupational Health report?
Poor reports can frustrate you as an employer but also increase the anxiety for the individual who is absent and may actually reduce the likelihood of their return to work. Cost of reports is often the first factor for employers but beware, cheap is not always best. Quality, i.e. a clear prognosis with relevant advice and recommendations is essential. The cost of one good report invariably outweighs the costs of two or three cheap generally poor reports. Any perceived savings of a few hundred pounds are quickly lost by the costs of further OH reports, arranging cover in the workplace and prolonged sick pay.
One of the most frustrating things we hear from employers is that the OH report often simply repeats the employee’s negative view point without clear recommendations on how to address their issues. Another common frustration is where the OH reports just make general recommendations e.g. a phased return to work; that the individual needs to be reviewed in 6 weeks / 3 months; or worse, that there should be no contact with the individual.
Of course, you want value for money but what you really need is an in-depth, robust and evidence based report i.e. one with medically based opinions and recommendations that are appropriate for the workplace and the individual concerned. If there are workplace issues or patterns of absence, there should be clear advice on how they should be managed and, if adjustments are recommended due to a potential disability, it should be clear that such recommendations will be subject to what is considered reasonable by you as an employer.
If further treatment or alternative assessments are recommended, the report should explain why and indicate the benefit that the recommendation may have in realistically increasing the prospects of the individual’s return, reducing the length of their absence or reducing the risk of them relapsing.
A good OH report should ensure that:
- It sets out whether the individual is likely to return within a reasonable timescale;
- You are able to determine whether the individual is likely to be deemed disabled;
- Your specific questions have been answered; and
- You are clear on what you should consider and do next.
If not, don’t be afraid to challenge and ask further questions.
How do you choose an Occupational Health provider?
Talk – Are they a good fit with you? How will they ensure that they understand your business or organisation and the environment your staff work in? Can they provide anonymised examples of cases or reports where they made a difference? Are they willing to give you a “reference” I.e. a client you can speak to?
For further advice or support on Absence Management or Occupational Health services, please contact Simon Bellard, HR Consultant in our Education team on 0161 475 7666 or Stephen Foster, Partner and Joint Head of our Employment Law and HR team on 0161 475 7664.