Towards the end of 2017 the government announced that it was scrapping its Fit For Work assessments which formed a major part of the Fit for Work initiative that was introduced to support businesses with occupational health advice and guidance. Since its launch in 2015, the Fit for Work service has consistently struggled with a low public profile and scepticism among both GPs and employers about its use and usefulness.
The idea of the service was that GP’s could refer staff to have some support with returning to work following illness or injury and that businesses could utilise the services of occupational health support without the need to identify a private business to support them, which can sometimes be cost prohibitive.
This decision to scrap the biggest part of the Fit for Work Programme will come into effect at the end of March 2018 in England (end of May in Scotland). So where can businesses go when they need some support around staff sickness? The government are saying that they are reviewing the whole Fit Note scheme alongside the provision of statutory sick pay and even occupational health, but in the meantime, there are steps that employers can take when dealing with staff who are off for longer periods of time.
- As soon as an absence becomes ‘long term’ (generally after 3/4 weeks) arrange regular welfare visits to keep in touch with the member of staff. Even if the illness is a long term one it is important to keep the relationship so that it is easier on the employee when the time comes to return to work.
- Ask the employee what support they need from you, what their GP has suggested. Quite often a lot of the information that was provided in the Fit For Work reports can be obtained by asking the right questions elsewhere.
- Consider writing to the employees GP for a report, there will be a charge and you will have to obtain the individuals consent, but making sure the right questions are asked can give you valuable information when you are managing the absence.
- If necessary, engage the services of a private occupational health provider, there are plenty out there (just ask if you want an introduction to one) and many are happy to work on a case by case basis.
- Document every part of the process. I always tell my customers to imagine that every case will end up as a tribunal (I’m optimistic like that!) and to make sure that all the evidence that we would need to defend that case can be found.
- And of course, it’s always useful to engage HR as soon as possible so that you can be guided through the process in the best way for your business.