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Employers ‘Are Ready For New Sickness Absence System’

Expert Comments After Concerns Are Raised Over EEF Research


By Rob Dixon

Fresh concerns raised in relation to the Government’s ‘fit note’ programme have highlighted how many employers are hoping that a new scheme set to be launched next year will prove more effective in the management of sickness absence, according to employment law experts.

Manufacturing organisation EEF has called on the Government to bring together employers and the medical profession to agree measures to tackle sickness absence, after its latest survey into the area found that improvements seen in recent years have now plateaued.

The body added that the key concern now was to take concerted action to tackle long-term absence from work, with the poll finding that manufacturers are particularly negative about the ‘fit note’ system of getting people back into their jobs.

According to Glenn Hayes, a Partner and expert in employment law at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, the concerns raised reflect how both doctors and employers have differing views on this issue, despite both sharing a similar objective.

He outlined: “Quite simply, the doctor wants to get the employee well, whereas usually, the employer’s primary objective is to get the employee back to work in the quickest possible timescale. However, efforts to bring together both sides in an effective manner through the ‘fit note’ system currently appear to be unsuccessful.

“There could be a range of reasons for this. One may be that many doctors could be uncomfortable about having challenging conversations with their patients about what work they can do and how their sickness impacts on their ability to do it and the fact that their skills sets are for example different to those of the usual expert in these situations; namely Occupational Health.

“In addition, appointments generally are only scheduled for 10 minutes each and even doctors who are willing to have this type of conversation, may not have time to do it properly. They may not have any real knowledge about the work the employee does, other than a job title, given that their main concern is to look at medical symptoms and examine whether the treatment offered is working.”

Glenn added: “The EEF has pinpointed the issue of long-term absence as a particular issue and it is interesting to note that the Government has said that it will take steps to address this by launching a new health and work assessment service next year. This will see state-funded assessments carried out by Occupational Health professionals on employees who are off sick for four or more weeks.

“It is also expected to see case management introduced for employees whose complex needs require ongoing support, as well as more advice to both workers and their employers related to the various barriers preventing people from returning to work.

“Considering these concerns in relation to fit notes, it will be interesting to see how adoption of the new system develops and whether this tackles the issues raised in relation to the current process.”

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