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Warning as ‘Fit for Work’ scheme is scrapped

A specialist in HR and employment law is warning bosses to ensure their policies and procedures are in place following the news that the controversial Fit for Work scheme is to end.

Fit for Work was created by the Government to provide a free scheme which enabled employers to refer their staff to a GP, offering advice on employees who were off work for more than four weeks.

Natalie Parkinson, solicitor in the Employment & HR team at Napthens, explained that the scheme never took off, with reports suggesting that two thirds of GPs hadn’t made a single referral to the scheme in 12 months, and of the employees taking part, less than half had ultimately returned to work.

Now the Government is planning to end the scheme from March 31, and Natalie is warning employers that there are no plans to replace it, so businesses must ensure they have their own policies and procedures in place to deal with sickness absence correctly.

She said: “Uptake by employers and GPs was low, and those who used it reported Fit for Work was ineffective at helping employees get back to work.

“Many employers complained the scheme actually replicated their own occupational health efforts, and that they would rather deal with an issue earlier than let it get to the point where Fit for Work became available – after four weeks’ of absence.

“There are no plans to replace Fit for Work with a direct alternative, but the Government has announced a ten-year plan aimed at breaking down employment barriers for disabled people and those with health conditions.

“There are also plans for a flexible statutory sick pay model and investment in support for people with depression and anxiety disorders.

“Employers should use Fit for Work in the meantime, should it be suitable for the needs of employees. They should also ensure they have clear policies in place on managing sickness absence and ensuring all staff are aware of their obligations to report an absence.

“Managers and HR professionals should all be trained in dealing with and managing employee absence.”

Employment and HR lawyer Blackburn