NICE guidelines call for early contact with staff on sick leave

Employers should appoint a trained ‘keyworker’ to contact employees who are on sick leave and help return them to work, government-backed guidelines say.

The key worker could be an HR manager, an occupational health nurse or doctor or the person’s line manager, says the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The recommendation is part of NICE guidelines on helping people return to work following sickness absence, designed to back other initiatives, including the government pilots of a new GP ‘fit note’ and ‘fit for work teams’ to help get sick staff back to work.

“This new guidance from NICE aims to help employers and employees work together to ensure that when someone is absent from work due to sickness, the right support is available as early as possible, so they can return to work as soon as they are able,” said Mike Kelly, Public Health Excellence Centre director for NICE.

Key workers should have an understanding of the workplace and health issues and, if possible, should not be the employee’s line manager.

They should contact staff who have been on sick leave for between two and six weeks and find out if they have received treatment and how likely it is that they will return to work.

With the agreement of the employee and after consulting the employee’s GP, the key worker should draw up a detailed assessment and appoint a case worker to help an employee back to work if necessary.

Employers should be prepared to offer lighter duties to support a gradual return to work.

“Implementing this guidance is likely to result in cost savings for employers in a reduction in sickness absence costs,” said Kelly, adding that most of the interventions were simple and should not result in extra NHS costs.

NICE was formed in 1999 to advise the health service on cost-effective treatments available for common health problems, and has since extended its remit to advising on public health, including in the workplace.

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