A new government scheme will shortly become available to help businesses manage employees who are long-term sick back into work. It’s called Fit for Work and it is a free service that acts as a focal point which employers, employees and GPs can go through to get someone back to work as quickly as possible.
The HR Dept says the scheme could well be a boon to small and medium sized businesses. However, they advise that employers familiarise themselves with it before it goes live in April.
Sue Tumelty from HR Dept summarised the scheme: “Broadly speaking, if an employee is off work sick for four weeks or more, they can be referred for a free occupational health assessment to produce a ‘Return to Work’ plan.” It is estimated that at least one million people take sick leave for a month or more each year and that this costs the economy over £9 billion. Fit for Work is designed to make a dent in this figure.
Sue continues “The scheme is supplemented by a tax exemption that came into play in January 2015. This gives employers an allowance to spend up to £500 per employee per tax year on recommended medical treatment to get the employee back to work.”
So what should employers be doing now to get ready? Sue advises: “The scheme is not compulsory, but whether or not you plan to engage with Fit for Work you should update your written policies to acknowledge its existence. There are a few criteria to consider if you want to use the scheme. Perhaps most notably, the employee must give their consent for referral. It is worth bearing in mind that even if you do not instigate a referral you still may be contacted by an occupational health professional to get a better understanding of the workplace context among other things, as the referral can also come from the GP.”
Local businesses having difficulties managing the long-term sick can give the HR Dept a call to explore their options.