Sickness and absence from work can be a tricky subject to tackle. especially if you are unsure of the underlying reason for absence. In some cases, the reason for absence may require medical advice. For small businesses at one time such advice may have been beyond their reach. In January 2015, the government introduced a new Fit for Work service which is open to all businesses who need to get a second medical opinion about the absence of their employees.
The Fit for Work service has been designed to help employers to manage the impact that sickness absence and sick pay has on their business. It will help you to assess the gravity of someone’s condition, and when you can expect them to return to work. You can access all of the information about it from the Fit For Work Service website – there you can get free, impartial advice, and information on the referral systems, such as Occupational Health.
When you consider that in England and Wales alone, each year around 865,000 employee absences last over 4 weeks, it’s easy to see how this can become an issue. There are many advantages for keeping on top of it in a way that complies with the law, including employee satisfaction and productivity being kept at a high level. It’s currently the most effective way to keep the employer and the employee happy.
When it comes to the Fit for Work service, the sickness absence definition refers to someone who has been away from work for more than 4 weeks. Anything before that is called ‘short term sickness’ and is expected to be dealt with as normal. These longer term people are the employees that you can request a sickness absence letter from their GP from, and that can be referred for an assessment with a specialist to conduct a Return to Work Plan – hopefully getting them back into the workplace much quicker than expected.
This is a process that you will be involved with the entire time. With the employee’s consent, the specialist will help you to gain a better understanding of their condition and limitations because of that, any Return to Work recommendations that you can put into place, and target completion dates for all of this. Sometimes just knowing when things are expected to return to normal can take the pressure off of everyone else.
Another advantage came in 1st January 2015. The Government has introduced a tax exemption – limited at £500 per employee – where employers fund the medical costs of treatments recommended by the health care professional, with the aim of getting past those NHS waiting lists, and getting people back to work as soon as possible.
So if you haven’t already gotten involved in the Fit to Work scheme, it’s best to do so now to protect yourself, your business, and your employees in the best way possible.