This year sees the final rollout of the Government's new Fit for Work service, aimed at putting an end to the 'sick note culture'. The service is designed to tackle long term sickness absence and assist in a return to work for employees.
The service provides free unlimited advice to employers, employees and GPs on work related health matters either online or on the telephone. It also provides for an employee to be referred for one free occupational health assessment in any 12 month period.
Both employers and GPs can refer an employee who have been absent for four weeks or more to the Fit for Work service for a free occupational health assessment.
The employee must give its consent to the referral. Employees who give their consent will receive a telephone assessment from a registered occupational healthcare professional and be given a Return to Work Plan that will be provided to their employer and GP, subject to the employee's consent.
Employers should consider any recommendations made by the occupational healthcare professional, but the decision whether to implement any recommendations will remain with the employer.
With more than 1 million people on sick leave for more than a month each year, at a cost of over £9 billion, it is no wonder this service is receiving a lot of interest from businesses faced with employees on long term sick leave.
However, whilst the service remains voluntary, employers should consider updating their existing sick leave policies and procedures to reflect the availability of this new service."
Employers should have a clear and effective sick leave policies and procedures in place as it can in the long term save money and potentially limit the loss of vital knowledge and experience within their business.
Having an employee off on long term sick absence costs money, creates potential work backlogs and often requires the recruitment of temporary replacement staff.
If an absent employee does not return to work, then there is also the costs of recruiting and training a new permanent members of staff.
We recommend that employers regularly review their policies and procedures to ensure that the are effective for the running of their business.
So although the new service on the face of it looks like it will help get people back to work, employers cannot force their employees to use it and so how effective the service will be remains to be seen.
Businesses should look to this service to compliment their existing sick leave policies and procedures. "Any business will want to see their staff return when they are fit and well, this new service can form part of the options available to employers in assisting a return to work.
More details on the new Fit for Work Scheme can be found at www.fitforwork.org