HR Alert: Fit for work scheme to be scrapped

PRACTICES are reminded that the government’s flagship fit for work scheme is to be scrapped due to low referral rates.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced that the scheme will be abolished at the end of this month in England and Wales and at the end of May in Scotland. The helpline will remain for employers, employees and GPs to seek general guidance on health and work.

At MDDUS, we regularly deal with calls from practices on how to deal with long-term absence and it was hoped that this scheme would provide more transparency and help both employers and employees.

The initiative was introduced in September 2015 to help get employees back to work by providing free expert and impartial advice, including occupational health assessments and general health advice to employers and employees.

The aim was to help individuals stay in or return to work as well as reduce absence levels and sick pay costs. It was intended to complement an employer’s existing occupational health support and to provide small businesses access to such services.

However, a survey in September 2017 by GPonline found that two-thirds of GPs had not referred anyone in the last year and 60 per cent of those questioned were unsure how effective the initiative was at reducing long-term sickness levels.

The employer’s ability to claim back statutory sick pay (SSP) was changed with the introduction of the scheme to aid funding. The government has also announced that there will be a consultation over any further changes that may be made to SSP now that the scheme is being abolished.

MDDUS members can contact our employment law team if they need any advice on long-term absence. Dealing with employees who have been absent for a prolonged period requires balancing the employee’s health needs while also trying to manage the needs of the practice.

On the employee’s return to work, it may be advisable for them to initially work shorter hours or take on alternative duties but this should be included as part of the return-to-work plan.

If the employee is not deemed fit to work, you do not have to hold a role open indefinitely, but terminating the contract on the grounds of capability can be a long and sensitive process. It’s in the best interests of the practice to ensure they create a productive workplace. It’s not simply a case of preventing absence, but supporting employees if they need time off.

 Click here to access our long-term absence factsheet.