Fit for Work or not Fit for Work – that is the question!FfW

Your apprentice is sat there doing nothing, you’re already advertising vacancies for two new team members and you get the call to say your longest serving employee is signed off for a further month with ‘back problems’. This not only means that you continue to be majorly short-staffed, but also that you have to be paying out Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), at the current Government set rate of £88.45 per week, until further notice.

With EEF’s Sickness Absence Survey 2015 ( claiming that the average sick pay cost per employee is £374 per year, it appears you’re not alone. So what can you do to manage long term sickness absence (four weeks, or more) in the workplace?

Well before you start probing employees for personal information on their illness, the Government’s Fit for Work scheme could help, for free. This scheme, set up in 2015, enables employers to proactively deal with employees who are on long term sickness absence, rather than sitting there collecting dust (and SSP!) whilst off sick.

Provided that your employee: - Is still employed - Has been absent for four weeks or more - Has not previously been referred through the scheme in the last 12 months, and - Has provided their consent to be referred

The first stage is to obtain consent from your employee; as they aren’t at work, it may be best to have a telephone conversation with them and provide an outline of the plan, then following up with a letter, including a blank consent form for them to complete and return to you. It is quite common for employees to be hostile in this situation, as they may assume you do not trust that their absence is genuine, or they may feel you are trying to get them out of the business, therefore it is important that you reassure them in the very early stages that this is just a supportive measure in order for the company to obtain more information on their condition, so that they can be fully supported back to work when the time is right.

The next step, once consent has been obtained, is to make the referral through the Fit for Work website, – an occupational health professional will then contact your employee and carry out a consultation with the employee, over the phone. This consultation will discuss any factors which are prohibiting them from returning to work and create a plan designed to enable their return to work (providing this is a possibility). This may include your company implementing some reasonable adjustments in the workplace; for an employee off with back problems, this may include a different chair, foot rest or workstation assessment for example, which could enable your employee to return to work sooner than previously expected.

The benefits of the Fit for Work scheme are clear; if employees return to work sooner, this will reduce your sick pay costs. If you’re a Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) you may have limited access to occupational health services and therefore this allows you to access them for free. Using this service will also promote a positive message to employees; as an employer you are willing to provide assistance and support in getting them back to work.

If you’d like advice and support surrounding employees on long term sick, or you need someone to manage the Fit for Work process for you, the team at RBHR are on hand to help. Call us on 01935 411191, or email