The Fit for Work Service is to be welcomed but it is ‘no panacea' for all sickness absence issues, Elliott Hurst, director of health consulting at AXA PPP has warned.
He highlighted that the service is limited to employees off work with an expectation that they will return to work, not cases where early referral might be best suited.
Hurst also warned that the Fit for Work service is "is not a replacement for an existing employer occupational health programme, many of which will be well established and bespoke for employers' particular needs."
However Hurst acknowledged that the service could benefit smaller sized firms with limited or no access to occupational health support.
He also said: "Fit for Work may not have a full appreciation of business' working environment, culture or operations, making it difficult to offer well informed decisions or recommendations compared with those provided by employers' own occupational health programmes.
"Nor are employees obliged to share their Return to Work Plan with their employer - and may choose not to - meaning employers may remain unaware that Fit for Work was involved and has made recommendations to facilitate their return.
"And, given the potential for GPs to refer absent employees to Fit for Work too, employers that already have access to occupational health support may end up with two different set of rehabilitation plans, resulting in confusion at best and, at worst, a delayed return to work."
Hurst said that other limitations of Fit for Work include the absence of support for employees who are in work and for whom employers need advice - for example, regarding recurrent sickness absence or performance issues.
He added: "Nor does it offer guidance on other occupational health matters such as post-employment checks, health surveillance and fitness to attend workplace meetings. Employees are allowed one referral only within a 12 month period and those who have been referred to Fit for Work will be discharged from the service if a return to work is not achieved within three months."
According to YuLife’s Employee Health & Wellbeing Survey
From £7 per employee a month
‘Employers can take action now’
Nearly three quarters have seen their income reduce
£4m GWP per annum across its portfolio