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New Service to Tackle Sickness Absence

Last year 131 million days were lost to sickness absence which costs businesses nearly £29 billion. The UK has a fairly bad record of sickness absence compared with its European neighbours so the Government plans to introduce a new National Health and Work Service to help get absent employees back in the work place and prevent long term welfare dependency.

The new service will come into effect for some areas from October 2014 and then nationally from April 2015. It will be funded through the abolition of the Statutory Sick Pay Percentage Threshold Scheme. Employees who have been absent from work for four weeks will receive support in returning to work and employers will also be supported on managing sickness absence in the workplace. The Government estimate that this will save employers over £50 million a year and will reduce the time people spend off work by approximately 30%.

The Health and Work Service will be split into two parts; assessment and advice. Under the new service employees will be offered access to a work-focused occupational health assessment and case management facility. If an employee is absent or is expected to be absent from work for a period of four weeks, a GP can refer the employee for assessment, this can be done face-to-face or over the phone. The work focused assessment will highlight the issues preventing the employee from returning to work. A plan will then be put together to for the employee, employer and GP to recommend ways the employee can be helped to return to work more quickly. It is indicated that this plan will be given to the employee who will then have to give their consent to allow both their GP and employer to see it.

This plan will include return to work timetable, fitness for work advice and also where they can find appropriate help to aid recovery. It may also include recommendations such as working fewer hours or working from home. Employees will be supported throughout to enable them to return to work as quickly as possible. It is not yet clear what input the employer can have when it comes to such things as recommendations and assisting an employee to return to work. The Health and Work Service will also provide access to an advice on the internet and telephone which will be available to anyone who feels they need it. For any medical treatments recommended by the Health and Work Service or arranged by the employer, the Government will introduce a tax exemption of up to £500 as a benefit in kind and to reduce the cost to the employee.

The Health and Work Service will run alongside an employer’s existing occupational health procedure. Although the service is not compulsory and is dependent on the employee’s consent, it is not yet known how two lots of occupational health could run alongside each other and, if a case goes to tribunal, what view would be taken if the employer chooses to use their own occupational health rather than the new service. More detailed guidelines will be published by the Government before the Health and Work Service goes live in October.

Watch this space and we’ll keep you updated.

In the meantime if you want help dealing with an employee with chronic Monday-it is or long term ill health, get in touch.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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