The Government hopes that businesses will be encouraged to act upon recommendations in Return to Work plans by a tax exemption of up to £500 per tax year per employee on medical treatments recommended to help employees return to work. Businesses should also consider updating their sickness absence policy to inform employees that they could be referred to FFW and to provide information on how the service works. If businesses already have an occupational health service in place they should consider how this may interact with FFW. Businesses can also contact the FFW helpline or website for advice on work-related health matters (when an employee’s health is affecting them at work) or when an employee is absent from work due to sickness.
It is hoped that this new service will reduce long term absence and sick pay costs by promoting recovery and rehabilitation. This should be particularly beneficial for small and medium sized companies who may have limited access to occupational health advice and services. However, the way in which FFW has been implemented by the Government means that there are a number of opportunities for employees to refuse to engage with the process including refusing a referral to FFW in the first place along with refusing consent for the Return to Work plan to be shared with the employer. So even with the introduction of FFW, there is no guarantee that businesses will always be able to receive the benefits of the scheme. This issue, together with the fact that most assessments will be conducted by telephone, rather than in person, may mean that businesses still prefer to request a medical report on the employee from their own occupational health providers, which can be more detailed and reflect a fuller understanding of the employer’s business, rather than rely simply on guidance from FFW.
Businesses will also retain responsibility for those employees who have more severe medical problems which may mean that they are never able to return to work, as well as for employees who do not co-operate with the FFW or do not return when they are supposed to under the Return to Work Plan. Unsurprisingly FFW will provide medical advice only and will not provide more general HR assistance in relation to issues arising out of employees’ employment contracts and businesses will still need to seek advice in this area.