There are essentially two aspects to the policy – a free online and over-the-phone advice service for anybody with a health issue related to work, and a referral and assessment service specifically for employees who have been, or who are expected to be, on sickness leave for four weeks or more.
The idea behind the scheme was that, through the provision of an advisory service and occupational health assessments, individuals would be supported in returning to work earlier which, in turn, would lessen the financial implications for a business of having a long-term absent employee. It was initially anticipated that small businesses in particular would benefit due to the widening of access to professional occupational health support which they may not have been able to otherwise afford.
So, almost 18 months on – how effective is the scheme and is it actually achieving what it was designed to? There has been talk of problems relating to the actual referral process with discrepancies in how GPs (and employers) interpret an individual’s eligibility for assessment, issues regarding the quality of the advice given and the real value that these assessments actually have, as well as concerns with regards the rise in presenteeism, with employees encouraged to return to work before they’re ready.
However, perhaps the biggest question we have to ask is how the Fit for Work initiative is supporting smaller businesses tackle the issue of long-term sickness and improve overall health and wellbeing at work? We’ve highlighted just a few areas below which have been highlighted as potential barriers to the scheme for smaller enterprises:
- Waiting Time | to refer an individual for assessment, an employer has to wait for four weeks of absence before doing so. For larger organisations this may not be an issue, but for smaller firms having to wait this length of time before being able to take action may be crippling
- Additional Administration | the extra paperwork and administrative requirements related to the scheme may be a huge burden for some smaller firms who are already admin-heavy
- Voluntary | as the scheme is not currently compulsory for either the employer or the employee, it may not be sufficient enough to be able to target certain groups of individuals who are out to ‘abuse’ the system and never return to work
- Lack of Legal Protection | no legal protection is provided to employers to assist them in challenging those who fail to comply, which may be hugely detrimental to the smaller business which doesn’t have the financial or legal backup to deal with the issue.
We’d love to know your experiences of the Fit for Work scheme and whether you’ve benefitted from the services on offer, or indeed whether you’ve found the whole process challenging and problematic. Do get in touch with us and share your views.