Are you aware of the terms of the new Fit for Work Service?
The Fit for Work service
Nearly a million employees a year are absent from work for more than four weeks and employers face an annual bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs. In response to these figures the Government is to introduce the Fit for Work from April 2015. This service will provide health and work advice through a website and telephone line and free referral for an occupational health assessment for employees who have reached four weeks’ of sickness absence. The service is designed to help these employees to return to work sooner.
There are two elements to the service:
• Assessment: once the employee has reached, or is expected to reach, four weeks of sickness absence they will be referred by their own GP for an assessment by an occupational health professional, who will examine all the issues preventing the employee from returning to work. Employees will be contacted within two working days of a referral by the GP or employer. The assessment will usually take place over the telephone.
• Advice: employers, employees and GPs will be able to access advice through a telephone line and website.
After an assessment, employees will receive a Return to Work Plan which will include advice and recommendations to help him or her return to work more quickly. Subject to the employee’s consent, a case manager conducting the assessment may deem it appropriate to contact an individual within the organisation (eg the employee’s line manager) to discuss factors that might help to develop the Return to Work Plan. The Plan acts as evidence of sickness absence so the employer will not need to request a fit note during the period covered by the Fit to Work service.
Employers do not have to follow the recommendations in the Return Plan, but failure to do so could cause legal issues in some cases, particularly if the employee is disabled or if the employee is dismissed or unable to return to work.
The service should be useful to those small and medium-sized businesses that do not have ready access to occupational health services. Some concern has been raised that the new service will replace the existing occupational health services but the DWP insist that Fit to Work is intended to complement, not replace other current services.
The Government is paying for the new service by diverting the way it funds sickness – with effect from 6 April 2014 employers can no longer reclaim statutory sick pay and are now wholly responsible for funding the sick pay paid to absent employees.
Employers should consider the following:
• The focus of the Fit for Work service is early intervention: to enable employees to return to work promptly.
• Use of the Fit for Work service could offer significant savings on current occupational health cost that are paid for privately.
• In order to accommodate the loss of refunded sick pay (since April 2014), employers should keep accurate records of absence and SSP.
• Sickness absence policies should be updated to reflect the availability of Fit for Work and any potential interactions with the workforce.
• Train managers about the new service and their potential responsibilities.
• Consider making a referral to an assessment if a GP has not already referred.
• Consider how to support recommendations in a Return to Work Plan.
If you need further guidance or support in how employee absence is managed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org