A recent survey of employers, carried out by Jelf Employee Benefits, suggests that many employers intend to utilise the new Fit for Work service in some form as an absence management tool.
Fit for Work is the government’s new flagship policy to reduce long-term sickness absence in the UK. The service began its long-awaited roll-out in March in two geographical areas, and should be available in many other regions by the end of 2015. The service will provide a free and independent assessment of any employee that has been absent from work for four weeks or more, with the aim of creating a return-to-work plan, including signposting toward appropriate medical interventions as needed.
Jelf Employee Benefits asked more than 140 employers if they intended to use the new service. Only six per cent of respondents intended to use Fit for Work in full, but a further 42 per cent of companies are intending to use the service on a case-by-case basis as required. Twenty per cent said they would use the Fit for Work website only for research purposes, and 16 per cent said they intend to use their own bespoke occupational health service instead.
In addition, almost half (49 per cent) of employers intend to adapt their formal sickness-absence policies to incorporate access to the new Fit for Work service.
Commenting on these findings, Steve Herbert said: “Despite the delays and limitations of the final Fit for Work offering, it is still encouraging that so many employers plan to harness this new service in some capacity. It will now be important that early evidence of success from Fit for Work is made available and publicised as quickly as possible to reinforce the value of the offering.”
Herbert did, however, highlight that Fit for Work will only be available for employer-led referrals once the employee had exceeded four weeks of absence, and also that employers in many geographical areas are not yet able to access the assessments services. He continued: “The battle to control the costs of sickness absence is ongoing, and I would encourage all employers to look again at their existing benefits offerings to see if they already have access to services within that package, which will help manage sickness absence better, both before and after the full introduction of Fit for Work. Tools employers may already have access to include occupational health, employee assistance plans, corporate healthcare, group income protection and rehabilitation support.”
Jelf Employee Benefits has also launched an occupational health helpline service for clients of the company.