The government has recently announced that it is scrapping the Fit for Work scheme in England and Wales from 31 March 2018, citing low uptake for the GP-led occupational health programme. When surveyed, two thirds of GPs had not referred anyone to under the scheme in the last year, and of those who had, 40% had no successful returns to work.
So, with Fit for Work on the way out, the question is what is coming in?
The government has published a sprawling policy paper on the future of work, health and disability, promising the start of a new ten year programme. The overriding response from businesses to the current system is that there was a lack of joined-up thinking between government, employers and the health service, and that while information on occupational health and disabilities is out there it’s fragmented and difficult to access.
At the moment its still early days and policies are not fixed, but the key proposals for employers to look out for are:
- Better access for employers to information and services on occupational health, mental health and disabilities.
- Employers with more than 500 employees expected to voluntarily report more information on mental health and disabilities in the workplace. One possibility is that employers could publish a statement setting out the steps they are taking, similar to a modern slavery statement under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
- Reform of statutory sick pay to make it more flexible and make phased returns to work easier. The current system can be a financial disincentive to employees returning to work on a phased basis.
- A ‘right to return’ for employees to a job following long-term sickness absence.
- Financial incentives for SMEs. While SMEs make up 99.1% of businesses in the UK, as a result of their size they are less likely to have established occupational health services and are sometimes wary that the cost of managing staff wellbeing could outweigh the financial benefits.
- National Insurance Contribution holidays (no specifics given).
Whatever the mix of proposals that do go ahead, it’s clear that there is going to be an expectation for employers to take on more of the burden for employees’ health and welfare. Employers should be looking at what common-sense steps they can take to prepare themselves, such as updating sickness absence and equal opportunities policies and reviewing their existing occupational health processes. The government has taken pains to point out that it understands concerns from businesses about costs. The proposals highlight above some of the carrots it is expecting to offer. No news yet on the sticks.