A new service is being launched that allows employers and GPs to make free Occupational Health referrals for employees off work for four weeks or more. The service will be voluntary and so employees must give their consent to be referred by either their GP or their employer. There will be one Fit for Work Service covering England and Wales and the Scottish Government will also launch its own Fit for Work service.
Neither service is fully operational at present but the Fit for Work service for England and Wales has started trialling the service in Sheffield. It is expected that the service will be fully rolled out across England and Wales over the next few months.
In Scotland the service is expected to start offering referrals by the end of January 2015.
The aim of offering the service is to help employers and employees alike to manage sickness absence more effectively at an early stage so that employees can be helped back to work. The UK government has estimated that over 130 million days are lost to sickness absence each year at a cost to employers of £9 billion per annum in terms of loss of production and sick pay costs.
Government research has shown that early intervention at four weeks compared to six months has a greater impact on getting an employee back to work (when they still have an attachment to their work). Evidence suggests that the longer an employee is off work, the lower the chance of them returning to work.
Some of the key benefits of the Fit for Work Service are:
1. Free occupational health referrals from an employee’s GP or employer after four weeks of sickness absence
(In some cases this can occur earlier if the sickness appears likely to last longer than four weeks).
2. In addition to the referral a practical step by step Return to Work plan will be produced to assist employees in returning to work.
3. An advice line to offer assistance to both employers and employees so that advice can be sought at an earlier stage.
The service should provide welcome relief for employers faced with increasing sick pay costs since the withdrawal of the Percentage Threshold Scheme. Though the service remains as voluntary it is to be hoped that the independent and impartial nature of the service will encourage more employees to engage with Occupational Health with a view to returning to work as soon as is practicable.
Details of both services can be found on their websites:
England & Wales