What is an occupational health referral?

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Health Assured team

18 July 2019

Sometimes, a person’s health can affect their ability to work, or their role can begin to affect their health.

Either way, employers have a duty of care to make sure health risks are minimised.

The occupational health referral process is designed to provide advice and support to employees. But it will also do the same for their managers, when agreed.

What is an occupational health referral?

It’s a referral to an occupational health professional when there’re concerns that relate to the employee’s health and their ability to do their job.

Conducted by an external healthcare professional, it helps determine any issues the employee faces.

It also suggests modifications that can be made to make their return to work easier and faster.

The referral process

Once you and your employee are in agreement, you’ll need to contact an occupational health (OH) expert with a referral form.

To help them understand the nature of the employee’s role and how the condition is affecting their ability to work, you should make sure the referral includes enough details about the employee, their work and their health condition. These allow the OH expert to carry out an informed assessment.

Once they’ve received the form, they’ll contact the staff member to schedule an appointment at a time that’s suitable for all parties involved.

Guidance for managers

Most issues you notice with an employee can be fixed by talking to them. A medical opinion isn’t always necessary.

But in cases of long-term absence, noticeable performance loss due to health, or illness caused by work, you should consider filling out and sending an occupational health referral letter.

When your employee is assessed by a professional, they’ll put together comments and suggested modifications to the working environment that’ll mean your employee can return to work.

There are some occupational health referral employee rights in place. These mean that:

  • The employee can refuse to see the OH professional.
  • The employee can refuse consent for the OH professional’s suggestions to be passed to you.

It’s a good idea to be open and communicate during every step of the process.

Sending an occupational health referral letter to an employee may feel daunting, but it’s best to let them know what’s happening and what to expect.

Remember, OH isn’t there to punish people for ill-health. It’s designed to make their lives better.

Guidance for your employees

These referrals are designed to help and not to hinder. It’s not a test and nor is it there to catch your staff out. Some consider it a punishment, but this also isn’t the case.

Encourage your employees to speak with you or the HR team about their concerns. It’s important for them to understand that the purpose of a referral is to find out how their health is affected, and how you can make it easier for them.

Occupational health referral questions

Some FAQs on this matter are addressed below. If you have a specific query not covered here, you can contact us for further details.

What to expect

Some employees may be wondering, “what can I expect from a referral?”. 

Upon arrival, they’ll see a doctor or nurse, who’ll ask questions to get a full picture of their health. Occupational Health Assessments can also be carried out via telephone.

This is to help your staff return to work—the assessor will use the answers as a basis of recommendations for changes you can make to the work process.

Are these referrals confidential?

Nobody other than you, your employee and the assessor will see any of the information gathered, without the employee’s express written consent.

What information can I expect as an employer? 

The healthcare professional will prepare a report based on their answers. This will include an overview of the employee’s health and fitness to carry out duties. It’ll also include details of any changes that could be made to hasten their return to work.

For example, in the case of an occupational health referral for work-related stress, these changes could include reasonable adjustments to lower workload, reduce hours or the opportunity for remote working, depending on their symptoms.

This all sounds rather intense, but remember the purpose of the assessment is to get an understanding of their condition and make suggestions that’ll make work easier. There aren’t any wrong answers, and it’s their opportunity to ask for the adjustments they think will help.

Do you have more questions about this?

Get in touch and our friendly team will be happy to help: 0844 892 2493


How can an EAP help your employees mental health and wellbeing?

Our Employee Assistance Programme provides guidance and supports your employees with their mental health in the workplace and in life. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all.

We support employees mental wellbeing with any problems they might be facing in their professional or personal lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline.


Find out more about EAPs



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