New Government Fit for Work Service
Following the independent review of sickness absence conducted by Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE in 2011, several pilot programs to help employers handle sickness absence and assist employees to return to work sooner were tried. Based on the findings from these projects, the government decided to launch a nation wide government funded service to assist employers, employees and GPs manage sickness absence issues. The purpose of the service is to reduce the length of time that employees are off sick and to enable them to manage health conditions and remain in work. The new service is being called ‘Fit for Work’ and will be launched in selected parts of England and Wales throughout autumn 2014, with the expectation that there will be national coverage by the end of May 2015. Scotland will have a similar government funded service, with the same aims, though the roll out details and how the service will work may be different.
So what does this ‘Fit for Work’ service do?
It provides an occupational health assessment and general health and work advice to employees, employers and General Practitioners (GPs) to help people stay in or return to work. The Service is expected to complement, rather than replace, existing employer occupational health provision and is not designed to provide ongoing clinical care, but to get people back to work.
Why is it being introduced?
Sickness absence is a big problem in the UK. According to government estimates, around one million employees were on sick leave for a month or longer each year on average between September 2010 and October 2013. Employers pay around nine billion per year in sick pay and associated costs and the state pays around thirteen billion per year on health-related benefits plus an additional two billion on healthcare, sick pay reimbursement and lost tax (tax that individuals aren’t paying because they are off work sick and not earning).
The financial consequences for individuals are also serious, with an estimated four billion a year in earnings lost through sickness and three hundred thousand people a year losing their jobs and ending up in the welfare system because of health related issues.
How will it work?
We’re not quite sure, as it has yet to roll out properly but the information available at the moment suggests this process:
1) When an employee has reached 4 consecutive weeks off sick, he or she will be referred (usually by a GP) to the Service. There will also be circumstances where the employer may refer the employee if the GP has not done so, or the GP may refer earlier than at the 4 week point.
2) The first assessment will be within two working days of receipt of the referral. This may be face to face or by phone.
3) If the employee is not expected to return to work, a review date will be set as part of the case management.
4) A further (phone) assessment will take place within two working days.
5) Face to face assessment (either initial or further) will take place within five working days.
6) A return to work plan will be sent to the employee. It will also be sent to the employer and the GP is the employee consents, within two working days.
7) There will also be a general phone advice line (limited hours) and an on-line advice service available 24 hours a day for employers, employees and GPs.
How is it funded?
Fit for Work will be funded by the abolition of the Percentage Threshold Scheme (abolished 6 April 2014). This is the scheme that used to reimburse statutory sick pay paid by employers, if the employer met the eligibility criteria. The government felt that this system failed to encourage employers to manage sickness absence appropriately as there was no financial incentive to get the employee back to work.
Who is running it?
The initial 5 year £170,000,000 contract has been won by Health Management Limited. This is a US owned company which currently provides occupational health services for 450 large public and private sector clients.
Is there any other help for employers?
A tax exemption of up to £500 per year per employee on medical treatments recommended by the Fit for Work Service or another occupational health service will be introduced. This is to prevent them employee paying income tax and the employer paying employer’s national insurance contributions on any recommended medical treatments.
Will it keep people in work and reduce sickness absence?
The idea that providing prompt intervention will reduce the time an employee is off sick and ensure that people stay in employment sounds good in theory, but there has been some criticism of the way the service is expected to work.
It is unclear how effective phone assessments will be for occupational health issues, where it is more usual to assess employees face to face. There is also concern that the demand for help will outstrip the ability of the service and that the service will not take account of the employer’s resources, but will rather focus on the needs of the employee. This could lead to unrealistic return to work plans and employers being penalized for failing to comply with employee’s unrealistic expectations.
On the other hand, the service is expected to take a holistic view of the employee’s needs, examining both non-health and non-work issues that may be causing problems. Therefore the advice given may cover a whole range of areas and will not just be health related. We approve wholeheartedly of this approach – in our experience, where an employee is off work for any length of time, a holistic approach is much more likely to succeed in helping them with their difficulties and enabling them to return to employment.
We won’t know how effective the service will be until it gets properly established. While there will inevitably be teething problems, as with any new service of this size and ambition, we hope that it will succeed in its aims of enabling more people to return to work and to stay in gainful employment.
If you have any questions about the new Fit for Work service and how it might effect you, do give us a call on 08700 434 284.
The information in this ezine is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Law Express Limited does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from relying on information contained in this ezine. It is not a substitute for legal advice and specific and personal legal advice should be taken on any individual matter.