From today, all employers across England and Wales will be able to offer their employees a referral to Fit for Work. According to new research, 74% of employers and 63% of employees in England and Wales feel that with more external help employees would be able to return to work earlier following a prolonged period of sick leave.
Fit for Work, which is entirely voluntary for the employee, is seen as particularly important for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that employ a large proportion of the workforce but have no or limited occupational health support available. It is estimated that just 31% of employees currently have access to occupational health services.
Together with helping employers to reduce the impact of long-term sickness absence on their businesses, the new service is estimated to help cut sick pay costs to business by £80 million to £165 million a year, as well as increase economic output by up to £900 million a year.
Within two working days of a referral to Fit for Work, the staff member concerned will receive an in-depth consultation with an occupational health professional who will explore all of the issues that might be preventing that person returning to work. This will include work-related and wider personal issues as well as health matters. They will then work with the employee to agree on a Return to Work Plan.
Employers have long called for such an intermediary service. Over half (61%) of employers worry about contacting their sick employees in case they feel pressurised. Similarly 56% of employees said they would not want their employer to contact them when they are off work because of sickness.
The Return to Work Plan will direct employees towards services that will help them overcome any obstacles keeping them away from work. If the employee gives consent, Fit for Work professionals can also work directly with employers to help achieve a return to work. The Return to Work Plan will provide evidence of sickness for pay purposes, replacing the need for a fit note.
To make a referral or find out more, visit the Fit for Work website or call 0800 032 6235.