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Fit for Work: key considerations for employers

Posted by James Arquette on 02/11/15 12:29

Fit for Work is a new Government-funded scheme aimed at enabling employees to return to work sooner, improve workplace absence management and cut the overall cost of sickness absence.

Staff who’ve been off work for four weeks or more due to illness or related issues can be referred to the scheme by their employers or GPs. Once referred, they undergo an occupational health assessment from an impartial case manager and are provided with a personalised Return to Work plan.

But what does this new initiative mean for employers? What are the potential stumbling blocks to watch out for? And what are the key questions employers should ask themselves?

In this special, two-part Fit for Work blog, Commercial Director, James Arquette, talks us through the key factors for employers to consider (and overcome some of the challenges associated with the scheme).

1. Take stock of your existing occupational health provision

As obvious as it sounds, ask yourself how the scheme is going to impact your existing arrangements, especially given the fact that Fit for Work kicks in at a relatively early point, at four weeks or more. After this point, the case manager and GPs will take over. Do you need to make any changes to your existing occupational health services? Does Fit for Work complement or conflict with them?

2. Review your current company documentation

If you haven’t already done so, review and update your current absence policy, associated policies and any handbooks and contracts to ensure they incorporate Fit for Work. For instance, you may want to stipulate employees attend Fit for Work assessment rather than your own internal occupational health scheme.

3. Ensure your case management is organised and up-to-date

While reviewing your sickness absence policy, you may also want to consider any internal triggers within your policy to ensure you have:

  • Plenty of time to meet with the employee before the four week point kicks in
  • Sufficient time for the Return To Work plan to be implemented

4. Don’t forget to review your job descriptions too!

It’s also important you check that your current job descriptions are up to date. While reviewing them you may also want to consider incorporating information about the tasks and activities your employees carry out within their specific role. That way, if you’re ever asked to share these details with a case manager, it’ll make it easier for them to develop their Return to Work plan.

5. Ensure you have permission to access Return to Work plans…

You won’t be able to view an employee’s Return to Work plan unless they’ve given you permission to access it. This means that you won’t be able to get to see what’s been recommended for them or how they’re progressing against what’s in their plan.

However, if you’d like to be able to see these details, there’s always the option of you expressing a requirement for all Return to Work plans to be shared with you.

6. …and have considered your approach to implementing them

You, your employee and employee’s GP are responsible for deciding if any of the recommendations within the Return to Work plan should be implemented. Some employers may feel that they have very little option, but to make the recommendations for fear of being challenged. Whatever, you decide to do, ensure you do not fail any obligations you may have under the Equality Act, wider legislation, or your duty of care as a reasonable employer.

What’s more, if you do choose not to implement, reject or modify any of the recommendations, make sure you’re able to fully justify your decision.

7. Make sure everybody’s up to speed with Fit for Work

It goes without saying, but make sure your team, especially your line managers, are aware of the Fit for Work scheme and their role in implementing Return to Work recommendations.

Fit for Work is a relatively new scheme. In fact, the nationwide roll out was only completed last month (September) so there stands a very good chance that some of your managers may not be fully up to speed on every facet of this brand new initiative. In the meantime, you might want to refer them to this handy downloadable guide, created specifically for employers.  

The introduction of Fit for Work is clearly recognition of the fact that, while GPs are extremely capable professionals, the Government has realised long-term sickness and the need for employees to return to work earlier requires specific occupational health skills and knowledge. However, as with most new initiatives, Fit for Work involves a whole new set of challenges. The key is knowing what they are and, more importantly, how to successfully navigate your way around them.

To learn more about the Fit for Work service consider visiting: http://fitforwork.org/employer/

Would you like to learn how to streamline your return to work interviews and ensure they still add value? Read our blog, ‘Return to work guidance: best practice advice for HR.’

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