Unfortunately the country has got a reputation for being “Sick Note Great Britain” as on average a worker in this country has 9.1 days of absence per year due to sickness. This does not compare too favourably with our United States counter parts who only have 4.9 days of sickness absence per year, and our friends in Western Europe who average 7.3 days of sickness per year.
Accountants reckon this problem costs our economy around £29 billion per annum. As a result the government have felt the need to try and assist some/medium sized businesses by providing the “Fit for Work” Scheme. Primarily the Scheme is designed to assist small/medium sized businesses who do not have their own HR/occupational health department and cannot afford to do so. It is hoped that the Scheme will help such businesses reduce absence due to sickness by getting employees back to work.
What does the Scheme cover
There are three benefits/elements to the Scheme.
Firstly there is free access to a website and telephone advice line for advice on any work related health matters. The website is www.fitforwork.org and the telephone number is 0800 0326235.
The second element is a free referral to an occupational health assessment for employees/workers who have reached or a GP expects them to reach 4 weeks of continuous sickness absence.
Currently the referral can only be made by a GP, but in the very near future (at a date yet to be confirmed) an employer will be able to make the referral.
Following the referral this will lead to a “Return to Work Plan” designed to get the employee back to work, which may include suggestions that the employer makes reasonable adjustments to the workplace and/or the employee undertakes rehabilitation such as counselling, physiotherapy etc.
The third and final part of the Scheme is that the government have introduced a tax exemption of up to £500 per annum per employee for medical treatment if it is recommended as part of a “Return to Work Plan”.
Is the Scheme compulsory?
The Scheme is not compulsory and can only work if both the employer and the employee/worker consent to the process.
Furthermore neither party is duty bound to follow the recommendations in the “Return to Work Plan”.
Having said that, Daven Naghen, head of our Employment Team, commented as follows:-
“From an employer’s prospective the Scheme is most useful as it provides free help and assistance in dealing with sickness absence. However if an employer does go down the route of using the Scheme and getting a “Return to Work Plan” for his employee, then there may be dangers in not following the plan. For example if subsequently the employee is dismissed for a reason relating to sickness/absence then the employee might argue that the employer has been unreasonable in not following/adhering to a “Return to Work Plan”. Similarly if there is a disability discrimination type claim, then an employee may have a stronger case for arguing that an employer is not made reasonable adjustments if say they are recommended in a “Return to Work Plan”.
However on balance I think that the Scheme is a good idea for some/medium sized businesses who cannot afford their own HR/occupational health support – it just remains to be seen how this Scheme works in practice and what quality of service is provided.”
If you are an employer or employee/worker who requires advice on this new Scheme or any issues relating to sickness absence then please contact Daven on 01775 722261 or email email@example.com or contact/visit our offices at 23 New Road, Spalding, Lincolnshire, PE11 1DH.