We have been waiting with baited breath for over twelve months for the government to introduce the new Fit for Work service (previously called the Health and Work Service), and it now looks as if 2015 will be the year that this service is rolled out to all employers.
Dealing with long term sickness absence must be one of the most difficult and sometimes frustrating tasks for an employer to manage, and the government’s initiative not only helps employers establish a framework for dealing with long term sickness, but offers a helping hand to employers by offering a free occupational health assessment and a free advice line to employers. So how does it work?
Employer referrals – Once this becomes fully operational in your area, you will be able to refer an employee who has been absent on long term sick leave for a period of four weeks or more, for an Occupational Health Assessment. Any employer who has experience of managing long term sickness absence will know that obtaining a medical opinion before taking any action when dealing with long term sickness absence is a fundamental step in ensuring that you can demonstrate that you have dealt with the matter fairly and have not unwittingly discriminated against disabled employees. So this is great news and this service should be fully operational by the end of this year.
Advice and Guidance – This second element to Fit for Work is to provide free, impartial, work-related health advice delivered by a team of occupational health professionals . This has now been launched and can be accessed on www.fitforwork.org.
So, whilst the employer referrals are a great step forward for managing long term absence, the advice and guidance service will also be useful for dealing with recurrent casual sickness absence. Make sure you ask the right questions though, and keep a record of the advice you have been given when you access this service.
Just a word of caution, whilst the medical advice is a key part in the equation of managing sickness absence, it is also important that due process is followed when addressing issues of sickness absence. If you have a Capability Procedure you should ensure that this is followed, and if you are uncomfortable about using this procedure or your Disciplinary Procedure for managing short term absence, you might want to consider introducing a separate Sickness and Absence Management Policy to ensure that you are managing each individual case fairly and consistently.
Contact Lia if you would like to sign up to our HR Updates and receive a copy of our Sickness and Absence Policy on firstname.lastname@example.org or you can get specific advice on a particular issue you may be grappling with at the present time by emailing Jenny on email@example.com .