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Employment Law Services Ltd

Health & Work Service- contract awarded

6th August 2014
The Department for Work and Pensions has announced  that the contract for the Government funded occupational health service (Health & Work Service) has been awarded to Maximus- which is one of the country's largest occupational health providers.

The Health & Work Service is a Government funded seervice that is due to come fully into operation in May 2015, with a roll-out starting in the latter months of 2014. The service is to be developed in response to the independent review of sickness absence in the UK, and follows the recommendations to introduce an independent sickness assessment. The Government believes that the service is predicted to reduce sick pay costs to business in the UK by between £80 Million and £165 Million each year, as well as increase economic output by up to £900 Million per year (see article at www.gov.uk/government/news/health-and-work-service, 25 July 2014) . These are substantial amounts- which we think are highly optimistic to say the least, even if the purpose of the service is good.

The Government estimates that almost 1 million employees were on sick leave for a period of a month or more each year between September 2010 and October 2013. It clearly makes sense to everyone that steps should be taken to try to reduce this level of sickness absence. The question is whether the Government's proposed scheme will actually achieve this or not.   

The scheme will provide for employees that have been off work for at least 4 weeks to be referred to the service by their GP. The Health & Work Service will deal with the individual by phone or internet (not see them face-to-face!).The service will produce a report  setting out a return to work plan, which will be shared with their employer and GP. 

Costs of the service will be funded by Government, which is no longer reimbursing employers for payment of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). A tax exemption of up to £500 per year per employee will apply to medical treatments recommended by the Health & Work Service, or for employer- arranged occuptaional health services. The service will appoint a case manager for each individual referred to it, who will have the job of ensuring that the right level of need is identified and the right amount of support is provided to try to get the individual back to work.

There are a number of obvious complications that arise. The first is the fact that as there is no face-to-face meeting there may be deficiencies in the report and any subsequent proposals that are made. Furthermore there is a very limited involvement with the employer in the process of the production of the report and plan for each individual- which again could result in an incomplete understanding of the needs of the employer and of the job of the individual, with the associated risk that the proposals produced by the service may not be entirely adequate. If the individual subsequently brings some claim in an Employment Tribunal the issue will arise as to what the employer did with the report and what actions did they take and what actions should they have taken? This means that the process may result in a further hurdle being presented in front of an employer within an ill-health or capability process. There is also the question of how the service will work alongside any existing occupational health service that an employer may provide. The risk also arises that some employers may decide to rely on the recommendations of the report without taking proactive steps beforehand, or fail to apply an appropriate capability or sickness absence procedure - perhaps based on the hope or belief that the Health & Work Service will deal with all the issues. The employer still has to take reasonable steps to deal with the employee and the sickness absence issues, and the service will only ever provide part of the process of resolution for the employer.

If you need further advice or assistance on the issues raised in this article please do not hesitate to contact us at Hallett Employment Law Services Ltd.              
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