When I say this, I don’t mean have you had your five-a-day or gone for a 3 mile run before starting work each morning, I of course refer to the new ‘Fit For Work Scheme’ aimed to help Employers and Employees deal with long-term sickness absence. 
Why has it been introduced? 
Following a government announcement employers are no longer able to recover statutory sick pay payments for staff absences. The funds will now be diverted in supporting the new Fit for Work Scheme, which provides; 
The employer more assistance in supporting their employees return to work, especially those with little internal support. 
The employee assistance in returning to work, as it has been deemed that to carry on working is overall more beneficial to their mental and physical heath. 
The GP’s who say they require more help with occupational health advice 
Have shown that on average 960,000 employees were on sick leave for a month or more, leaving an annual bill of approximately £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs. Following a full implementation in May of this year it is expected that between 
50% - 60% of employees will be referred to the Fit for Work scheme by GP’s, if there is a reasonable chance of them returning. 
So in brief how does it work? 
When the employee visits their GP, in essence to obtaining a fit note, as part of the discussions their GP should ask if they wish to be referred to the scheme or an employer can discuss a referral, if four weeks or more have passed, and the GP has failed to make a referral. 
Within 2 working days an occupational health professional will contact the employee to conduct an assessment working with the employee to create a Return to Work Plan which detail their condition and the type of support required in order for them to return to work. Provided the employee gives consent this plan may be shared with the employer and GP to consider carrying out the recommendations. 
The assessments will in the majority of cases be carried out over the telephone, otherwise face to face. 
The health professional will take account of the full range of issues, including health, work, home and any other difficulties. 
So what is the biggest drawback? 
It is not a mandatory service and the employee has to consent being referred to the 
Fit for Work Scheme if asked by the GP or their employer. 
It does rely on the employee being honest about their situation and that the case officer responsible for liaising with and creating the Return to Work Plan identify issues where consultation with the employer is required. 
Unless detailed within the plan the employee does not need to return to their GP to obtain further fit notes, all parties need to be compliant in order for the plan to work, otherwise a further assessment will need to take place and revised. 
If the employee fails to return to work within 3 months from the initial absence, it is likely they will be discharged from the scheme, leaving the employer to manage their absence via their own HR processes. It is beneficial therefore that the employer tries to maintain contact with the employee throughout their absence and not solely rely on the Scheme to manage the employee back into the business. 
What action do you need to take? 
Your internal company handbooks and absence management policies will need to be updated to ensure they are compliant to the new Fit for Work Scheme and your staff should be informed and updated on the changes taking affect so they are aware of the long term sickness policy and the support provided to help them return to work. 
How can I help? 
If you are a concerned employer and need some help, advice and support with regards to these changes or your documentation needs to be reviewed and updated then please contact me. Albert Peters – PegasUS Human Resources 01379 898784 
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