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Employers: what you need to know about this new government funded scheme

An array of different health complaints, surgery or accidents can cause an individual to be signed off work sick. Stress is increasingly common diagnosis; especially in offices and more so with new starters. This is largely thought to be even more likely with smaller teams where the work may be more intense, more focus is placed on the individual and/or they have received a poor induction. Back pain is a close second with 60-80% of people affected at some point.

Woman Reading Letter After Receiving Neck InjuryHaving worked with the Access to work scheme since our inception, we’ve been keen to understand how the new Fit for Work scheme is designed to assist people with health conditions stay in, or return to, work. So last week at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea, we attended the Fit for Work roadshow in association with ACAS and Healthy Working Wales to understand specifically how this is to help the 48,000 thousand currently off work, sick, in Wales and the benefits for employers who refer their employees.

Employee Concerns: Being signed off sick can be worrying for many employees, not only because of the reduced pay (if this is the case) but for many us, our work partly defines who we are and so long periods of sickness can have a detrimental effect on our mental wellbeing. In fact, it’s been reported that for those off sick for four weeks or more 1 in 5 will not return in a year. While those absent for 6 months, 1 in 2 will not be back in a year, if at all.

From an employer’s perspective, it can be costly paying out Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) while also having to employ agency staff or temporary workers at the same time. The extra training and workload can also put extra pressure on the remaining team which could then result in additional sicknesses costing the organisation even more lost production and money.

Needless to say, it can be beneficial for both parties if they can take steps to increase the likelihood of the employee returning to work as soon as they are fit to do so. The Fit for Work scheme is a toolkit for assisting people back to work. So both employers and employees can benefit from this new initiative.

How Fit for Work works

Employees who have been off work for four weeks or more can be recommended by their GP or employer for a free Fit for Work referral. Once the consent of an employee has been attained, Employers simply need to fill in this online referral form (the individual cannot refer themselves).

Upon referral, an occupational health professional will make contact with the referred person, by phone, within two days to arrange a time for a telephone assessment. The assessment typically takes 45 minutes but this can vary depending on the complexity of each case.

Supporting your business support your employees

Fit for Work is independent from any current services in place and is made up of a team of mental health nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and other professionals. The individual will be assigned a case worker who will explore all the different aspects preventing an employee’s return to work. These may include family, social and financial factors.

A return to work plan will be drawn up outlining the ways in which the employee can return to work before they are 100% recovered – often with modified duties or working hours e.g. a phased return. The plan will include advice and recommendations for interventions by the employer as well as signposting the employee to any services provided by not-for-profit organisations. Included will be a timetable for progressing interventions and if appropriate, a date for returning to work which will be regularly reviewed and subject to the employers agreement.

Recommendations could vary significantly from case to case but may suggest physiotherapy treatment, engaging in any existing occupational health services provided by the company, a specialist workstation assessment with the view of making reasonable adjustments to suit the individual’s new needs. If an individual is recommended therapy, the company may be able to claim a tax exemption of up to £500 per year (per employee).

CompromiseIf a fit for Work referral was made by the GP surgery, the first point you may be aware of this is when you receive a Back to Work Plan.

If the plan recommends a DSE assessment or adaptations to an employee’s workstation, please engage with our specialist assessment services. We are very experienced and approachable, so please consult us for advice.

Key points:

  • * The scheme is only available to those employed by an organisation.
  • * Fit for Work is not available to self-employed individuals.
  • * Employees cannot refer themselves – Only GP’s and Employers can refer.
  • * The service relies on the consent of the employee taking part.
  • * Mainly a telephone based service – a face to face meeting will only be arranged if a telephone service is not suitable due to the individual’s condition e.g. severe anxiety
  • * Fit for Work will not disclose any information about the employee’s involvement (or lack of) with the scheme unless the employee agrees.
  • * The assigned professional will take into account health, work and personal factors preventing the employee in returning to work.
  • * It will report the obstacles preventing the individual returning to work.
  • * A return to work plan will be drawn up listing recommendations.
  • * Fit for Work will liaise with any existing occupational health services in the company (again, with employee consent)
  • * Upon return to work, Fit for Work will revisit any issues.
  • * If the issues preventing the person returning to work are sensitive, they can talk to an employer on the employee’s behalf if they request this.
  • * It doesn’t promote presenteeism i.e. encourage an employee to return to work if they are unfit for duties.
  • * The service is a toolkit to assist employees and employers in making compromises.
  • * It does not replace your existing protocol, but aims to support and aid improved communication.

Fit for Work case manager Angela O’farrell announced they have already assisted over 200 individuals, of which 91-92% have returned to work since the launch of this government funded scheme earlier this year.

For more information about the Fit for Work scheme visit http://fitforwork.org/

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