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How a Timely Management Referral to Occupational Health Can Save You Money

Managing sickness absence is one of the top challenges for HR and business owners. Costs related to sickness absence are high and this looks set to continue with the added challenges of an aging population who remain in work past the national retirement age. The government recommends that a referral be made to occupational health following an employee’s 4th week of absence. However, a typical referral to occupational health is more often than not determined by a company’s absence policy. This principle can be seen in the case of an employee who was referred to OH after 11 weeks of sickness absence.

Timeline of a ‘typical’ referral to OH

‘Company X’ has a long term sickness absence policy in line with their industry standard that triggers on week 6. Mr K works on the production line and is paid £300 a week; he has been off work sick for the last 6 weeks with exhaustion, citing possible stress and depression. At the end of week 6 Mr K’s line manager informs the HR department.

HR reviews the case over the following working week and they make the decision to write to Mr K’s GP. It takes a further 2 weeks for the GP to send a report back to the HR team.

We are now at week 9

HR then reviews the GP’s report, Mr K’s mental state has not improved and he believes depression is causing a decline in his general health.  HR takes a week to review the case and decides that they need an independent OH report. An OH provider is contacted and a face to face consultation at Mr K’s home is arranged for a date the following week. The appointment goes ahead and the OH Company provide HR with the report giving Company X clear, decisive action.

We are now at week 11

The cost of this ‘typical’ referral to OH

SSP over 11 weeks (paid 52 out of 55 working days)£919.88
GP Report£150.00
OH face to face consultation£350

Piggy bank wearing glasses looking at a calculator

What would a timely referral to OH look like?

We will revisit the case and apply a new method to ‘Company X’s’ sickness absence policy.

Mr K reports his absence to his line manager at ‘day 1’ as per ‘Company X’s policy’. Mr K mentions that he is feeling unwell and ‘exhausted’ and possibly is suffering from depression.  At the start of week 2 ‘day 6’ Mr K has not returned to work. His line manager then automatically refers the case to Occupational Health. The OH provider triages the case and arranges a face to face consultation with Mr K on week 2 of his absence. The OH report is sent to and received by HR on Friday of week 2, providing clear decisive action.

We are now at week 2

The cost of a timely referral to OH

SSP over 8 days£133.80
GP Report (rarely required by Staywell)£0
OH face to face consultation£350


This case demonstrates the importance of collaborative working between line managers, HR and OH alongside considered policy formulation. A timely referral to OH helps both functions manage sickness absence with greater efficiency, ensuring a speedier return to work for the employee and will ultimately save the organisation money.

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