What does the recently launched Fit for Work Service mean for employers?
Fit for Work is part of the Government’s long term economic plan to help employees and employers manage sickness absence. It is hoped that the new service will significantly cut sick pay costs to businesses and also increase economic output.
The Service will provide an occupational health assessment service and general health and work advice to employees, employers and GPs. The aim is to help an individual to stay in or return to work and prevent sickness absence recurring.
How will it work?
GPs will refer employees for an occupational health assessment to provide specialist independent and objective advice. Early intervention is seen as key to the success of the Service so it is proposed that the first assessment will take place within two working days of receipt of the referral.
Health Management Limited has been appointed by the Government to provide the service.
When will the assessment be triggered?
With nearly a million employees each year reaching the four week sickness absence point, the Government has chosen the four week mark as the appropriate referral point for an assessment. If it is clear at the outset that the employee will be off work for more than four weeks the GP can make an early referral.
Employers will be able to refer an employee if the GP has not done so by the four week period.
What will the Service provide?
The occupational health assessment will result in a return to work plan being prepared. This will be shared with the employer and GP. The employee will also be allocated a case manager to ensure that their level of need is correctly identified along with appropriate steps to get them back to work.
There will be more general health and work advice for GPs, employees and employers via the telephone and a website.
Who will pay for the Service?
The Service is expected to be funded through the abolition of the percentage threshold scheme, which enabled employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay in certain circumstances.
A tax exemption of up to £500 a year for each employee on payments for medical treatment recommended by the Service, or an employer arranged occupational health service will also be available to employers.
When will the Service be in place?
The Service will be introduced on a phased basis later this year and is expected to be fully up and running by May 2015.
Does this mean that as an employer we do not have to follow any absence management procedures?
The Service is intended to complement rather than replace existing occupational health provision.
If you are considering dismissing an employee who has been off sick long term it is important that a proper process is still followed including obtaining appropriate medical advice, discussing this advice with the employee and considering alternative employment. Care also needs to be taken to ensure that if the employee has a disability, the obligations under the Equality Act 2010 are satisfied, which may include the need to make reasonable adjustments to the individual’s work environment or duties to support a return to work.
Whilst employers will still need to follow fair procedures and act reasonably and in a non-discriminatory way, it is hoped that early independent intervention under the Service will lead to more employees returning to work sooner. The Service will be particularly useful for those employers who do not have ready access to occupational health advice.
For more details about the Government’s new Fit for Work Service please contact:
+44 (0) 1604 871143
This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.