Occupational Health Assessment FAQs


Occupational Health Assessment – FAQ

Note: The below applies to Occupational Health Assessments carried out by a Doctor and also applies to those conducted by an Occupational Health Nurse Adviser.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Occupational Health Assessment?

An Occupational Health Assessment is a medical consultation performed by an Occupational Health Physician with an aim of addressing questions raised by the employer.  Its primary aim is to advise management regarding the employee’s health issue and to make recommendations on what adjustments could be considered to ensure a safe/healthy working environment for that employee.  It can also be an assessment of somebody’s fitness to work safely.

Each Occupational Health report will be tailored to the employee and situation but it can include advice on the medical condition itself, symptoms, prognosis, likelihood of recovery, what adjustments could be considered, and similar. The aim of the report is to inform Management and give them an expert medical opinion and sufficient information to enable them to make any onward decisions with appropriate knowledge.

An occupational Health assessment is NOT normally intended for diagnosis or treatment purposes though in some cases the Doctor could make suggestions for the employee to discuss with their own medical practitioners.

When should it be organised?

There is no fixed best time to organise an Occupational Health Assessment. Each situation should be treated on its own merits. An assessment can be organised at anytime including:

  • Employee still at work: An employee may be attending work regularly but could be showing signs of struggling and it may be the case that some timely changes are all that are required to keep them at work safely and productively.
  • Regular short-term absences: Somebody with regular short-term absences could benefit from an assessment to ensure there are no underlying more serious health issues.
  • Medium / Long term absences: Employees that have had substantial time away from work could be referred for an assessment.
  • Return to Work: It may be appropriate for employees ready to return to work following a period of absence to be assessed so they can be integrated back in a safe and structured manner.

A single one-off assessment is normally sufficient for most employees but for more serious illnesses then it may be appropriate to keep the employee under regular review.

Is an OH Assessment independent?

The assessment is invariably paid for by the employer and is geared to offering the employer appropriate advice and addressing any specific Management concerns raised at the referral stage. However the doctor/nurse will conduct the referral and produce a report in a totally neutral manner.

Is the report biased?

The Doctor will conduct the assessment and produce the report in a dispassionate and neutral manner. However the Doctor will probably not have the full background details of the issue and will have to rely upon the information provided beforehand, observations during the consultation/examination and what the subject tells them.

There can be two different views (those of employer and employee) of an issue and clearly the employee will talk through their perception of the issue in great detail and this invariably may mean the report does not necessarily correlate with employer’s perception. It is therefore important at the initial referral stage for the employer to explain their concerns and actions to date in sufficient details.

Does the Doctor have access to any medical records?

The Doctor only has access to what is available and provided at the referral stage or anything the subject may take along to the consultation.

Should the Doctor need access to medical records then they will have to follow a set procedure to gain access to them which includes getting written consent from the subject. Essentially it is the same procedure that, for example, HR may use to get a GP report. Additional time and cost would be incurred.

Are Doctor's recommendations binding?

Recommendations are not binding and are simply recommendations. It is for the employer to assess whether the recommendations are practical and reasonable to implement for their organisation and circumstances. However the advice is given by an expert medical professional and an employer should give them serious consideration.

Is the Doctor's opinion on whether the Equality Act provisions on disability binding?

The OH Physician is a medical expert who will give their view on whether the Equality Act provisions will apply. However it is a legal decision (and not a medical decision) made in a tribunal or higher court whether the Disability provisions of the Act apply or not. Legal decision would almost certainly have considered any medical opinions offered and therefore the Doctors opinion should count.

We think our employee is lying, will an assessment confirm this?

If an employee is lying especially about an illness with variable or no obvious outward symptoms then a 30-60 minute consultation will not, realistically, be the best option to confirm an issue or not. If you have any serious doubt then we would suggest you seek a report directly from the employee’s GP.

Will an assessment give us a diagnosis?

Many illnesses can take weeks or even months, a battery of tests and require specialist consultants to be officially diagnosed. An Occupational Health Assessment is simply not meant for this purpose; its primary aim is to educate and inform Management about the situation.

Does an Employee have to attend?

In short, an employee cannot be compelled to attend an OH assessment. It is therefore essential to fully explain to and engage your employee in why you wish to go down this route and what you want to achieve by doing so.

What can we do if an employee refuses to attend an OH Assessment?

We would recommend that you try your best to encourage your employee to attend. Thereafter you need to explain clearly that any Managements decisions you will be making will therefore have to be made without expert medical advice.

It would be advisable that this is all clearly documented.

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