Research has shown that the longer someone is off sick from the work the harder it is for them to return and the statistics as to the cost to the economy are staggering.
We reported earlier this year that the Government had taken away the ability for small employers to recover wages for the Government in cases of sick leave. The rationale was not just cost saving but plans for the new Health and Work Service were outlined.
There will be two elements to the new service which are assessment and advice. Firstly, with regards to assessment, once an employee has reached or is expected to reach four weeks of sickness absence, their GP will refer them for an assessment by an occupational heath professional who will look at the issues that may be preventing them from returning to work. There has been some criticism that this assessment will most probably be a telephone assessment rather than a face to face assessment and the service is unlikely to be familiar with an employer in the same way that their own occupational health provider would be.
Employees will need to consent to the referral but if that consent is given the employee will get a return to work plan which will include recommendations to get them back to work quickly and outline the support that is available to put that plan into action. Both the GP and the employer will get a copy of the plan.
The advice element of the service is available to employers, employees and GP’s and can be over the phone or through the website. It will not be case specific but will give general guidance and advice for employers on the situation. Many employment contacts and handbooks have standard provisions which outline that the employee must consent to a medical examination or referral to occupational health which may need to be reviewed and updated to cover the change in how long term sickness absence will be dealt with.