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A new Government Fit For Work service (FFW) aimed at tackling long term sickness absence could be a real benefit to employers according to law firm Maxwell Hodge

 The employment law specialist thinks this new initiative could not only help legitimately sick staff back into work, it could also be crucial in providing evidence to tackle serial malingerers.

 Heather Grant, employment lawyer at Maxwell Hodge said: "The new Fit For Work service is due to come into effect in April 2015.  It's a government funded occupational health service which will assess an employee's medical condition and provide advice to employees, employers and GPs regarding how an employee can return to work.  In theory this means that it will both be supportive to employees who want to get back into work but also leave no place to hide for absent staff who aren't really ill."

She added: "With the current system, employers often find themselves in a situation of repeated sick notes with little information about the employee’s condition or prognosis and can feel almost powerless to nip long term absence in the bud.  This new scheme gives them access to an independent occupational health organisation which will assess that employee's fitness for work and provide advice on what can be done to bring them back to work sooner.  If an employee is malingering then FFW will be a source of medical evidence to pursue a disciplinary procedure."

Under the scheme GP's will have an obligation to refer employees to FFW if they have been absent from work for four weeks.  If a GP doesn't refer the employee the employer can do so instead.  There will also be a tax exemption up to £500 for any treatment an employer pays for that is recommended by FFW or an employer’s occupational health service.

 Heather said: "This scheme puts more emphasis on bringing the employee back to work and employers can expect more considered adjustments to be recommended in addition to the standard GP recommendations of “light duties” and “phased return to work".  This however does put some responsibility on employers to think carefully about how they make these adjustments or they could be facing legal action from employees for unfair dismissal and/or failing to make reasonable adjustments."

The Fit For Work Service will run nationwide and be effective from April 2015.  For more information on the employment law implications of FFW or general employment law issues visit www.maxweb.co.uk

 

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