Employers to play crucial role in success of fit note, says EEF

If employers want the fit note to work they need to be taking more initiative when it comes to making contact with GPs about the work that their staff do, employers’ body the EEF has said.

The organisation published ­research in May 2012 illustrating the continuing stark gap in OH provision between large and small ­employers. The majority of firms employing more than 100 people offer OH support in some shape or form, but the situation is reversed below this threshold.

The EEF/Westfield Health “Sickness absence and rehabilitation survey” of nearly 430 organisations found that, while occupational health provision had increased among firms of all sizes, and ­demand for external OH provision was rising, a quarter of all businesses still did not provide an ­occupational health service.

“Companies should get involved and make the fit note work for them,” emphasised EEF chief ­medical ­adviser Professor Sayeed Khan.

“All the evidence shows the more companies put into the fit note, the more they get out of it,” he added.

The research also identified one of the most effective rehabilitation measures as offering altered or ­reduced working hours.­

It recommended that employers put more energy into making other rehabilitation measures work, such as developing return-to-work plans, allowing early interventions to prevent acute conditions becoming chronic, and having occupational health assess an employee’s fitness for work.

Another grey area was confusion over the true “direct cost” of sickness absence, something measured by just 22% of firms, said the EEF. The organisation is committing itself to developing a template for businesses to help them calculate this more easily.

The research urged the Government to publish its response to November 2011’s review of sickness ­absence by Dame Carol Black and David Frost and offer details about its intentions when it comes to tax breaks for workplace health intervention – an issue that ministers have already made positive noises about.

The electronic fit note needs to be introduced “as soon as possible” this year and the Government needs to recognise the growing problem – and cost – of presenteeism in the workplace.

In an unconnected move in May, research for the Institution of ­Occupational Safety and Health argued that many employers believe offering tax breaks for therapies and gym membership, as well as other measures, would encourage them to provide more health-related support for their employees.

The “Safety in Numbers” poll of small or medium-sized businesses by researcher ComRes found that almost two-thirds thought tax breaks to provide subsidised ­employee access to public gyms or sports facilities would be of benefit, with at least half feeling the same way about tax breaks for employee therapies such as physiotherapy for non-work-related injuries or illness.

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