A new Government funded health and work service is due to launch in 2014 with the aim of helping employees who have been absence for four weeks to return to work. It will also make independent, expert, health and work advice more widely available.
“Anyone involved with managing staff absence will need to be aware of the new procedures in order to get the maximum benefit from this free service,” says Nicola Prince of Beckett Financial Services. “It will be the responsibility of GPs to refer people who have been absent for four weeks or more for an Occupational Health Assessment. However, employers and employees may want to prompt their GPs to do this as it is likely to take time to become part of a GPs normal practice.”
It is anticipated that the Assessment will need to take place over the phone within 48 hours of the referral but the final details of the service are yet to be confirmed.
“An independent third-party will be responsible for carrying out the Assessment and providers will tender for this work at the start of 2014,” says Prince. “The purpose of the assessment will be to identify what the person can and cannot do, and the results will be in the form of a ‘Return to Work Plan’ that will be sent to the GP, employee and the employer.”
Prince, Director of Employee Benefits at the Suffolk-based company says: “The employer will then have to decide whether to implement the plan. And fund it.”
Although additional costs of implementing the return to work plan might be offset by the reduction to the payment period of Statutory Sick Pay, Prince believes that employers should prepare for the new changes by reviewing their absence management policies and Group Income Protection. “It is important to protect against the financial impact of long term employee absence by using Group Income Protection policies to cover a proportion of absentees’ earnings, employer pensions, NI contributions, etc.”
Group Insurance Protection is primarily designed to help employees and, as such, is a valuable additional employee benefit. “Absent staff will receive a regular income whilst specialist rehabilitation services are put in place to help speed up their return to work,” says Prince. “A lot of employers don’t realise they have access to specialist rehabilitation services and a vast range of early intervention measures provided by Group Income Protection. These services can be used to help the employer implement the return to work plan provided by the New Health and Work service.”
“We work with employers to create the right policy for their organisation by balancing policy costs with the impact/probability of long term absences,” says Prince. “And we also make sure claims are handled efficiently on behalf of employers and employees. We welcome the introduction of this service in 2014 and small employers should research it to see how they can manage the cost of absence.”