Reasons for referring staff to Occupational Health

There are likely to be three main reasons why members of staff should be referred to OH:

  • long-term sickness absence (usually a period of sickness lasting 28 consecutive days or more);
  • frequent or persistent short-term sickness absence due to a health problem;
  • poor or failing performance, the cause thought to be associated with a health problem.

Long-term sickness absence

Long-term sickness would normally be considered an absence from work due to an illness or injury lasting 28 consecutive days or more. If the reason for this absence is clearly going to lead to a long-term absence (e.g. the fracture of a major bone, major surgery, malignancy, a major heart attack or stroke), a formal referral is unlikely to expedite a return to work during the early stages of recovery. However, an early intervention (referral) can sometimes be useful if/when contact is likely to be required later on in the recovery process. Each case of long-term sickness absence should be treated on its own merit. Sometimes, simply offering a member of staff the contact details of the OH service should they want to make contact is less threatening than a request for them to make an appointment in the early days of an illness/injury.

Short-term sickness absence

Short-term sickness would normally be considered an absence from work due to an illness or injury lasting less than 28 consecutive days.

Frequent or persistent sickness absence

Frequent or persistent sickness is considered to be an absence from work due to an illness or injury:

  • on more than 4 separate occasions in a rolling period of 12 months;
  • multiple absences totally 12 working days or more (pro-rata for part-time staff) in a rolling period of 12 months;
  • regular Monday and/or Friday absences, or days before and/or after bank holidays;
  • regular absences occurring at times of increased workload, pressure or working to deadlines.

If a member of staff is taking frequent short-term sickness due to what appears to be a health problem which is affecting their ability to work effectively, a referral to OH would be appropriate. If the reason(s) for these absences are not medical in nature, the member of staff should be managed within their own College/Service by their line manager and/or a senior member of staff (and the HR Business Partner where appropriate).

Poor or failing performance

Issues relating to poor performance can be difficult to manage. The capability of staff can be affected by many factors other than their health (e.g. the effectiveness of the initial recruitment process, the information and training provided, the appropriateness and condition of work equipment, available resources, or basic negligence). Good skills in people-management will naturally minimise many of these factors, but all potential reasons for an employee's failing performance should be considered.

The prime responsibility for monitoring and handling poor performance on a day to day basis lies with the supervisor/immediate line manager. Line managers have the closest contact with their staff and are therefore more likely to recognise a problem at its start. Line managers are also more likely to know about any circumstances that might be affecting an individual's attendance (e.g. difficult personal or domestic circumstances). Line managers are also best placed to address problems and offer appropriate support at a very early stage.

Where poor or failing performance is thought to be secondary to a health complaint (i.e. it is considered that health concerns are leading to a fall in performance), OH will see the member of staff and consider whether ill-health is a likely to be the cause. OH will offer advice as appropriate.

Misconduct and disciplinary procedures should not be initiated where ill-health is identified as the cause of poor performance. Where it is believed that ill-health is not the cause of poor performance, the member of staff will be referred back to the HR Business Partner and they should be managed in accordance with University's Capability/Performance Procedure.