It is estimated that around one million employees were on sick leave for at least one month on average each year between September 2010 and October 2013 at an annual cost of approximately £9 billion for employers.
Consequently, as part of a Government initiative to help employers manage sickness absence and reduce associated costs, it has been confirmed that a new Health and Work Service will be introduced later this year. The service will provide occupational support to both employees and employers to enable individuals to return to work and is expected to consist of:
- An assessment to be undertaken by an occupational health professional (‘OHP’) for employees who have reached, or are expected to reach, at least 4 weeks’ sickness absence. Employees will usually be referred to the OHP by their GP in every case unless there is a good reason not to do so. It is anticipated that the assessments will be carried out free of charge and, in most cases, the assessments will take place over the telephone.
- A case manager to be appointed to guide each employee through the assessment process to help ensure that they are provided with the appropriate support to facilitate their return to work.
- A return to work plan to be prepared which, subject to the employee’s consent, should be shared with the employer. It is intended for the plan to provide evidence of fitness for work in the place of a fit note for the purpose of the employee receiving statutory sick pay.
- A tax exemption to be applied for each employee on payment of medical treatments recommended by the service of up to £500 annually (otherwise treatments would have been treated as a taxable benefit).
- More telephone and web based resources to be made available for employees and employers providing general advice with regard to health and work.
The service will replace, and will therefore be publicly funded by, the compensation employers currently receive under the Percentage Threshold Scheme for Statutory Sick Pay (‘PTS’). The PTS compensates employers who encounter above average levels of sickness. Implementation of the service is intended to begin later this year and is due to be completed by May 2015.
Lisa Outram comments: “I anticipate that the OHP assessment will be of most benefit to small and medium sized employers who do not currently have access to an OHP and will soon be able to utilise this service for free. Whilst the Government’s objectives will generally be welcomed by employers, there is however some scepticism as to how effective this initiative will be in practice in certain respects. For instance, employees will be entitled to withhold their consent to engage with the service and/or allow their employer access to the OHP’s report. Furthermore, the OHP will be reliant upon the information they are provided by individuals, usually over the telephone, and there appears to be no opportunity for employers to ask specific questions.”
Further information from the Department for Work and Pensions can be found on the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/health-and-work-service-supplier-announced
If you would like to discuss any issue or query arising from this update please contact Lisa Outram or your usual contact in the Employment team. Alternatively email us at [email protected].