Yorkshire Water’s fit note process helps employees back to work

Yorkshire Water fit note
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Water management organisation Yorkshire Water uses fit notes and its occupational health service to support employees back to work after any period of absence due to illness or injury.

The employer has around 4,300 employees and covers the country of Yorkshire.

For Yorkshire Water’s fit note process, employees self-certify for the first week, after which they need a fit note from a GP. The fit note may include instructions, guidance, and advice on work adjustments and modifications for management, which are then considered as part of supporting an employee to return to work.

The organisation also has an internal occupational health service, which includes Susan Gee as head of occupational health and wellbeing, two occupational health practitioners, two occupational health physicians, a mental health co-ordinator and an office manager for the department.

Employees are referred to the occupational health service if they are off sick or if they are experiencing health issues and are still at work. Alternatively,  employees can self-refer if they wish. They can have confidential conversations about any health-related issue, even if their manager is not aware of it, and it does not have to be work-related. If an employee has issues that are preventing them from returning to work, whether these are physical, psychological, financial, or social, they can access the service, along with a 24-hour employee assistance programme.

Employees can return to work on a phased return basis over the course of four weeks if they have recovered from an illness, and the employer also offers a 12-week rehabilitation plan for those recovering from chemotherapy, a heart attack, depression and other severe health conditions to work reduced hours. This approach is used when an employee has recovered their health sufficiently to return to work, but they are not recovered enough to resume their full-time duties and hours. An alternative work placement can also be considered.

Gee says: “An organisation needs to be practical and pragmatic about helping people to be at work and engage with it, so we offer a physiotherapist service with PhysioMed, a 24/7 GP line for employees and families, an employee assistance programme for financial and legal advice, as well as counselling face-to-face, over the telephone or through Teams calls, and private medical and dental insurance. We also have numerous flexible-working options.”

The government’s proposed fit note reforms, which include trials in some Integrated Care Systems in England to test increased access to health and employment support and referrals, are aimed at helping the 2.6 million people who are economically inactive due to long-term sickness and disability.

Gee believes the proposed changes will help, but that challenges lie in a lack of occupational health professionals and other health specialists, such as occupational therapists, that would be needed.

“At Yorkshire Water, we have a lot of support in place to help our employees return to work or remain in work with adjustments when they have long-term chronic conditions. The proposed changes will hopefully help both our employees and people access specialist services quickly and this should improve attendance at work and assist people to get back to work, however this will be dependent on what services are available and the extent of them, given this is likely to be a huge undertaking,” she concludes.