Fit for Work opens for employers

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Employers in England and Wales are able, from today, to refer employees to Fit for Work, the government service set up to help working people on long-term sickness absence.

Fit for Work provides occupational health services to people who have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more. It is particularly aimed at small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that have little or no occupational health support.

Each year, around 870,000 absences in England and Wales last for four weeks or more, according to statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions.

A YouGov poll in 2013 found that 31% of workers were employed by organisations that offered no occupational health support.

Welfare reform minister Lord Freud said: “The longer someone remains out of work due to sickness, the greater the cost to their career, income and future earnings.

“Fit for Work will ensure that people get the right help when they need it to get back to work so they can continue to support themselves and their families.”

Fit for Work is also available to larger employers, where it can help complement existing occupational health provision.

David Frost, the former director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, who authored the independent review of sickness absence with Dame Carol Black in 2011, commented: “Employers have asked for a service that will provide rapid access for their employees to get practical advice on the support they need to make a return to work.

“The evidence is clear – the longer a person is out of work the harder it becomes to make a successful return to their job.

“Now Fit for Work has launched, all employees and employers across the country have access to free occupational health advice and support for the very first time. The service will provide much needed support, particularly to small businesses.”

Within two working days of a referral to Fit for Work, the employee will receive an in-depth consultation with an occupational health professional who will explore all the issues that might be preventing a return to work.

This will include work-related and wider personal issues as well as health matters. They will then work with the employee to agree a personalised return-to-work plan.

Research carried out on behalf of Health Management, which is providing the Fit for Work service, showed that more than half of employers said they could do more to support and help employees returning to work after a prolonged sickness absence.

The service is already open in Scotland, but referrals can currently only be made by phone.

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