There are around 960,000 employees who take sick leave for a month or more each year, with nearly a third of those dropping out of employment altogether. This is costing employer companies, millions of pounds of loss every year UK-wide.

In response to a Government-commissioned report prepared in 2011, the government has set up Fit for Work, a new service providing occupational health advice and support for employees, employers and GPs. The objective of the scheme is to help people with health conditions stay in or return to work, through free telephone and online advice service, but also an independent health assessment and follow up after just 4 consecutive weeks’ sickness absence. Assessment will lead to a Return to Work Plan and series of recommendations for employers to facilitate the employee’s return to work. 

From January 2015, in light of the report, the Government also introduced a tax exemption on employer’s expenditure on medical treatment and vocational rehabilitation.

Employers need to be aware of the changes which Fit for Work is likely to bring about to their current absence management practices. For some employers, the first they will know of an employee referral to Fit for Work may be upon receipt of a Return to Work Plan. 

In light of the potential involvement of Fit for Work in employee sickness absenteeism, employers will need to consider their sickness absence policies and whether they wish to impose requirements upon employees as regards co-operation in the assessment process, highlighting any effects of failure to do so.


Particular issues to consider include:

- Line managers will generally be the first point of contact for Fit for Work. Are managers equipped to respond to ‘Return to Work’ recommendations they receive. Is training needed? Will you nominate one person as a central point of contact and communicate this to employees?  

- Understanding whether there might be consequences if recommendations are not acted upon. Co-operation with Fit for Work is entirely voluntary but there may be legal implications if dismissal is later contemplated or reasonable adjustments fail to be made.
Updating, revising, policies and procedures able to accommodate this change in approach.

- Considering how (if at all), Fit for Work might impact upon existing in-house Occupational Health resource. Are employees aware of such recourse?

- Should dismissal be considered, assess whether the necessary steps been taken in order to minimise the risks of discrimination claims being made subsequently.


Clearly, not all employees who are absent due to ill-health will be capable of returning to work or at least will not be able to do so before it is reasonable for the employer to decide that it cannot wait any longer.
For further information, please contact Koichiro Nakada – Head of Japan Business Group (koichiro.nakada@lewissilkin.com) and Yoko Nakada - Senior Associate, Deputy Head of Japan Business Group (yoko.nakada@lewissilkin.com).
Disclaimer
The information and any commentary on the law contained in this bulletin is provided free of charge for information purposes only. No responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by Lewis Silkin LLP or Centre People Appointments. The information and commentary does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice and is not intended to be relied upon. You are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal advice from a lawyer about your case or matter and not rely on the information or comments in this bulletin.

This information is supplied by Lewis Silkin LLP www.lewissilkin.comm

Article top