In April 2014, the government removed the scheme which enabled employers to claim a refund for statutory sick payments made to employees. The impact of this on small businesses was and remains immediately obvious. At the current rate of £89.35 per week employers now have to foot the cost of up to 28 weeks in SSP payments, which come from profit and cannot be reclaimed.
Given that when dealing with long-term sickness absence, it is strongly advisable to obtain a medical report on your employees fitness to return to work, disabled status and what, if any reasonable adjustments should be made in the short or long term; additional fees for GP or Consultant reports simply add to the strain. And no, GP reports are not free and the cost of them can vary. So what alternative option is available?
The Government have, since 8 September 2015, operated a fit for work scheme which enables employers in England and Wales to refer employees who have been off work for four weeks or more, for a free fit for work or occupational health assessment. A separate scheme operates for those based in Scotland.
If the employee consents, accessing the scheme is simple and can be done online, by email or telephone. Once consent is obtained, the employee will be contacted by a healthcare professional, or invited to a face to face meeting to discuss a return to work plan which would include any suggested reasonable adjustments your employee may need, and how long for. A copy of the plan will be sent to the employer who will also receive ongoing support and interaction from the scheme, which is particularly helpful if the employee remains off work for a further significant period of time.
The key benefits of the scheme are its cost and apparent independence, in that, the report provided is coming from someone who has assessed the employee solely to establish what, if anything it might take to help them back to work. Details of the scheme can be found at https://fitforwork.org/.
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Sick staff have become more than just an inconvenience for small firms. They could force them out of business, after the Government withdrew a vital compensation scheme. Small firms have now lost the right to reclaim a their statutory sick pay (SSP) costs; this is the minimum amount that must be paid to sick staff by every employer, regardless of size, for a period of up to 28 weeks. The effects of the change are only now being felt by many small firms, as the costs of long-term sickness begin to mount.