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Fit for work …… employers are you aware of the deadline to reclaim SSP by April 2016 ?

GPs and employers throughout England and Wales can refer their employed patients and employees who have been, or are likely to be, off sick from work for four weeks or more for a voluntary occupational health assessment. Further details of the scheme can be found at http://fitforwork.org/

The occupational health professional will identify obstacles preventing the employee from returning to work. A Return to Work Plan will be agreed providing recommendations tailored to the employee’s needs, which can replace the need for a fit note.

The scheme was introduced as the Government sought to reduce the statutory sickness pay (SSP) bill that previously SME’s had been able to claim back from the government. It was designed by the Government, mainly to help small to medium size (SME) businesses who sometimes could not afford an occupational health scheme for their employees. The upshot of this is that employers can no longer recover some of SSP. They have until end of 2015-2016 financial year to recover SSP for sickness absences that occurred before the end of 2013-2014.

So is this Fit For Work scheme of any use to employers? As with most things only time will tell, however the pilot scheme was successful. In addition I did have cause to use the scheme a few months ago when, acting on behalf of an employer, I referred an employee to the scheme. Based in the private sector we had high target and performance figures to hit and any absence of an employee in a small centre had a big impact on other team members. The report was very useful to both parties and was returned within 24 hours! The employee liked it as they could see it was a Government owned and sponsored scheme and it also meant they felt supported by the employer. The feedback was very constructive and helped to structure honest and open communication between the employee and employer. It wasn’t biased to either side and actually really helped us an employer deal with issues that perhaps otherwise we were stumbling around in the dark with and we got the employee back to work sooner than they would have been otherwise.

Just one final point of this issue of fit to work. Quite often this issue of ‘fit to work’ comes up when employers are looking to carry out a disciplinary hearing. This can be a very stressful time for an employee and can quite often lead to an employee being signed off for work with stress.  Sometimes this gets extended indefinitely and it can be frustrating for an employer who wants to address the matter expediently. I have had a few situations previously whereby contacting the employee at home directly and consulting with them around “dealing “with the issue has worked. Generally by explaining to the employee that attending the disciplinary hearing, whilst remaining on absence, can in most circumstances improve the “stress” they are feeling. Invariably it is the unknown that causes more angst and stress for people than the known outcomes. However where the employee is not willing to engage in this process of consultation as the employer you can still act swiftly – so long as you work within set criteria.

One particular time I remember an employee being signed off by their GP however they turned up to work and said they could work in their normal job but their GP had said they were too stressed to attend a disciplinary hearing. We had to advise the employee that if they were fit to attend work that they were fit to attend the hearing. The employee subsequently went off sick. Matters can be addressed swiftly however you need to ensure that you are working within the law whilst meeting the needs of your business. Here at Sagegreen we can help guide employers through this difficult process. So if you would like further advice in relation to any aspect of managing staff sickness please get in touch with myself or one of my colleagues.

 

Deborah Johnston

Area Director – Essex

Tel: 07739 517616

Email: djohnston@sagegreen.com

Head Office: 01606 333677