Have you taken advantage of the Fit for Work scheme?
On 8 September 2015 the latest phase of the new Fit for Work scheme was introduced by the government to assist small and medium sized businesses who have no/limited access to Occupational Health support. The scheme provides access to these services for free. Fit for Work is being provided by a private company called Health Management Limited (HML) in England and Wales.
The service is provided for employees to have an assessment following 4 or more weeks’ absence from work, where a tailored return to work plan will be agreed and providing recommendations to their employer. Whilst there are obvious benefits to this service in regard to the referral being free and inclusive of all employees, there are a few things to be aware of when considering if you would like to refer an employee. The service is not mandatory therefore the referral is dependent on the consent of the individual employee as well as consent from their GP. Employees can only have a referral once in every 12 month period so, if this is used too early, they may not be a facility to have a later, more meaningful referral, if factors change. At the referral, the worker will be asked about their condition, job and any other factors that might be affecting their health or their work. Therefore the OH assessment will not provide a technical assessment of the employee’s specific work place or a detailed account of their substantive duties. The report will all be based on the employees answers so may not be a true reflection of duties and therefore you may need to agree to make adjustments to any return to work plan in any event.
When considering Fit for Work referrals in your business, the service may prove useful in cases where employees have straight forward minor adjustments suggested. However if employees have more complicated absences, you may consider paying for a full assessment as this may be more beneficial. You will receive a full report from your chosen provider, including a full assessment of their specific job role and responsibilities. This can be used when discussing adjustments or capability for their current role, later down the line.
Above all else, there is strong evidence to suggest that early interventions when people are off sick can make a return to work more likely, especially in cases of stress related illnesses and musculoskeletal disorders. Therefore if sickness absences can be reduced or even prevented by taking opportunity of the free assessment, it is definitively worth considering.