It will probably not surprise employers that sickness absence across the UK is costly but some of the statistics are staggering. In fact nearly a million employees were absent from work for at least four weeks due to sickness absence each year between 2010 and October 2013. It has also been estimated that employers face an annual bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs with the state spending around £12 billion a year on health related benefits plus £2 billion a year on healthcare and foregone taxes.
Following an independent review, various measures are being put into place by government to improve the position. The latest development is the new Health and Work Service known as ‘Fit for Work’ which will commence on a phased basis in late 2014 before being rolled out nationwide by May 2015.
Fit for Work aims to get employees back to work from sick leave, thereby improving business productivity and reducing the strain on state benefits. It will be available across Great Britain, with a unified brand and scope but will be delivered by The Scottish Government in Scotland. The provider for England and Wales was recently announced as Health Management Ltd, a MAXIMUS company. The service will be paid for with the savings from the scrapping of the Statutory Sick Pay Threshold Scheme, which gave some financial compensation to employers faced with high levels of sickness absence and which was available until 5 April 2014.
How it will work
There are two elements, the first an occupational health assessment and the second, general health and work advice to employees, employers and General Practitioners (GPs) to help individual s with a health condition to stay in or return to work.
Once employees have been off sick for four weeks (or they are expected to be off for four weeks), their GP will be able to refer them for an assessment by an occupational health professional. If there is no GP referral, after four weeks, employees may be referred for an assessment by their employer. Following as assessment, a ‘return to work’ plan will be produced, with recommendations to assist employees to return to work more quickly and information on how to get appropriate help and advice. The plan may, for example, include recommendations for medical care, working from home or retraining.
A tax exemption is to be included within the arrangements of up to £500 a year for each employee on payments for medical treatments recommended by Fit for Work or an employer arranged occupational health service. We will keep you updated on any further developments as they occur.