DWP urges sickness policy overhaul

Employers should update their sickness absence policy to reflect the availability of the new Fit for Work service, the Department for Work and Pensions has said.

In guidance for employers published on Friday, the DWP said employers may want to tell their staff about the advice that is available from the Fit for Work website or telephone line and that they may be contacted by Fit for Work about an employee who has been referred by their GP.

The DWP advises telling staff what they should do if they receive a Return to Work Plan from Fit for Work and how they can support recommendations in a Return to Work Plan.

The DWP guidance confirms employees will be contacted within 2 working days of a referral to the service, and face to face assessments, when required, will take place within 5 working days of the judgement being made.  Where employees are required to travel to such an assessment, a travel allowance may be claimed from the service provider.

The document suggests that the rules for referral from an employer may be more rigorous than a referral from a GP.  For the employer to make a referral the employee must have been absent for four weeks due to illness, whereas the GP can refer an employee who is ‘likely’ to be absent for four weeks.

The document also confirms that employees will be discharged from FfW when they have returned to work (including a phased return to work), at the point that FfW will no longer provide further assistance or if a return to work has not been possible after three months.

Jelf Employee Benefits head of benefits Steve Herbert says: “It is now evident that the primary referral route for Fit ror Work will be the employee’s GP, rather than the employer.  Employers can still refer of course, subject to the criteria set out in the document.

“Where a return to work plan is issued by the Fit for Work service, the plan can be used as evidence of sickness absence in the same way as a fit note issued by a GP, and the employer will not need to ask the employee for a fit note as well.

“The tricky issue of employee consent is also covered.  The document states“Employees must provide consent at all stages of the assessment process. Consent must be explicit, informed and freely given.”

“This is one for the employment lawyers to consider, but suggests that the consent issue will need some detailed thought if employers are to use this service for all employees as a standard sickness absence default option.”