Occupational Health: What is it good for?
With sickness absences at a 10-year high, employers face challenges on a number of fronts such as increased rates of burnout, the impact of long-Covid and absences related to the menopause (to just name a few).
Whilst it is key to have policies in place addressing how the business will tackle such issues, as well as sickness absences generally, these are worthless if they aren’t engaged with and followed.
Fundamentally, when it comes to managing longer term sickness absence, an employer will be expected to investigate the reasons for the absence. It is impossible to effectively manage a sick employee if the employer doesn’t really know why they are off, how this affects them at work and what the prognosis looks like.
The best way of removing uncertainty in situations like this is to obtain an Occupational Health report.
Why? The report will address what conditions (if any) the employee suffers from, whether this could amount to a disability and suggest workplace adjustments.
This makes it much easier to understand what risks need to be managed from an employment law perspective, as well as easier for the employer to proactively manage the situation.
The benefit of having this information far outweighs the cost of obtaining such a report, not to mention the costs that a business would be exposed to if slapped with a discrimination or unfair dismissal claim as a consequence of getting this process wrong.
If an employee was to refuse to engage with Occupational Health then this would only further protect the employer as they could then make decisions on the basis of whatever evidence it had to hand. A tribunal would take a dim view of an employee who left an employer with no other option but to proceed in the dark.
In summary, the only way of successfully managing long-term sickness is to understand what is going on and whether anything can be done to get the employee back to work. An employer that makes decisions without carrying out any or little investigations will open itself up to significant legal and reputational risk – the good news is that this is easily avoided!
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article, including how we can help create Covid-19 and/or menopause policies, then please contact the Employment Team on 01274 864999.
Author: Jonothan Scollen, Employment Law Solicitor