Fit For Work scheme still underused by employers

Despite a boost in awareness, the government’s flagship sickness absence service Fit for Work is still underused by employers, new research has revealed.

More than four-fifths of HRs (82 per cent) are now aware of the scheme – compared to 70 per cent in a similar survey ahead of the scheme’s launch in 2015 – but only 21 per cent have used it.

“It would have been fair to expect an increase in awareness of the Fit for Work scheme to have gone hand-in hand with a reasonable level of participation but this clearly hasn’t happened,” said Mike Blake, Director, PMI Health Group.

“Part of the problem may be that employers must wait until an employee has been absent for four weeks before referring them to an occupational health professional. Many employers opt for early interventions, which can be so important in tackling long-term sickness absence, and they may be pursuing a course of action that does not easily include the Fit for Work service.”

Fit for Work provides two core functions for employers, employees and GPs. The first is the provision of free, expert and impartial work-related health advice via its website and telephone line. It also allows employees on long-term sick leave to be referred to an occupational health professional by their GP or employer for creation of a return to work plan.

Despite this, HRs still appear to believe the scheme does not go far enough in encouraging a proactive approach to tackling sickness absence. Three-fifths of those questioned (60 per cent) claim there is still too much focus on ‘fitness’ to work rather than early intervention and phased returns to work.

However, 68 per cent say the free health advice offered under the scheme is useful.