Under the radar – Fit for Work and sickness absence

Earlier this month we sat in on a presentation delivered by the Fit for Work service, and this session did highlight one small but important change to the offering that we must admit had slipped under our radar.

The Sickness Absence Review published in 2010 suggested that the Independent Assessment Service (now branded Fit for Work) should have three access points; referral by the GP, the employer, or the employee themselves.

It is now apparent that the last of these three options – the employee referral – is no longer available. Now, to a very large extent this is not that important. The chances of employees being aware of the service and making self-referrals was always slim, and particularly so given the likelihood of confusion between the Fit for Work assessments and that are required by the Work Capability Assessment (which we covered recently here).

So this is not a game changer. Yet it does leave a small but significant gap in the offering that employers both need to be aware of and plan around.

As we have covered many times on this blog and at our events, GPs are unlikely to fully engage with Fit for Work for some years to come. For more thoughts on why this should be please see this earlier post.

So the majority of referrals in the early years should perhaps be expected from employers – yet they are unable to make such a move until the employee has been absent for four weeks or more (whereas GPs can refer from day one of absence). This difference in the timing of referral points is strange, and with early assessment and intervention a major key to swift return to work makes little sense.

The bottom line is that employers will have to do their bit to make employees aware of the service – and in particular highlight that referrals before the four-week line can only be made by the family Doctor. And where a long period of absence is expected workers can be encouraged to actively ask their GP for a referral before the four-week line has been crossed. Such awareness can only help achieve many more successful early returns to work.

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Of course, many employers will also have other offerings which they can already access from day one of absence. In particular those employers that offer their employees Group Income Protection cover can often benefit from a range of features (usually free of charge) which will provide employee assistance in such situations. A presentation by insurer Canada Life this week suggested that no less than 86% of referrals to their early intervention service did not ultimately result in a claim. A clear sign that early referrals make a significant difference in returning employees to the workplace swiftly.

For the full original article and other similar articles, please visit the Jelf Group Blog.