Fit for Work advisory scheme has been launched

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A website has been launched for the Government’s new initiative on sickness absence; the Fit for Work scheme. This scheme has been launched after a comprehensive review of sickness absence in the UK.  This revealed a trend of employees slipping into long term sickness absence after being absent from work for four weeks.

What is the Fit for Work scheme?

This scheme aims to:

  • assist employees with health issues who are in work; or
  • support those who have been absent for four weeks or more to return to work; and
  • aims to help employers to better manage sickness absence, whilst complementing the service GPs provide to patients who are off sick from work.

Employees, employers and GPs can now obtain “free, expert and impartial work-related health advice” via the new website and featured telephone advice line (operational since 15 December 2014). This allows visitors to chat online to a specialist advisor, email a question or browse the advice library on various health and work topics.

The scheme also includes a referral to an occupational health professional, who will carry out an assessment for employees who have been off sick or who are likely to be off sick for four weeks or more. This will include a follow up and return to work plan, including recommendations. There will be a phased roll-out of the referral service taking place between January and May 2015.

What does this mean for employers?

Employers have no obligation to implement any recommendations and co-operation would be entirely voluntary. However, employers should consider how they will deal with the return to work plans or recommendations, taking into consideration that there may be legal implications if dismissal occurs or if the employee has a disability.

Employers should also consider further practicalities, such as ensuring that their policies and procedures include this new approach to sickness absence and potentially providing training to managers. If employers choose to implement any recommendations which include medical treatments, they will be entitled to a tax exemption of £500 per year, per employee.

For more information, help or advice please contact Tony McPhillips on 0191 211 7908.