The government’s Health and Work Assessment Advisory Service (HWAAS), was first announced in January 2013 and it is due to launch in April 2015.
This service has been set up in response to an independent report commissioned into sickness absence in England and Wales. It is designed to address the growing problem of sickness absence in the UK, which costs employers and the state billions of pounds a year in lost productivity and benefits payments.
The Service will assess an employees’ physical and/or mental functions and their ability to work (rather than simply do their job), with a view to getting them back into the workplace quickly and efficiently.
How will it work?
The scheme will:
- deliver a state-funded assessment by occupational health professionals for employees after four weeks on sick leave;
- point people in the direction of appropriate interventions, including Universal Jobmatch, an online job search service for those employees who are able to work but unlikely to return to their current employer;
- provide employers and employees with advice on overcoming the barriers that prevent people from returning to work; and
- provide case management for the minority of employees with complex needs who require ongoing support to enable their return to work.
Whilst the new scheme will benefit a number of small and medium sized businesses it is unclear how the larger business who have longstanding relationships/contacts with Occupation Health providers will use the scheme. Will they be required to use the Government funded assessment or will they be able to continue with their previous arrangements. What will happen in the event a business receives conflicting reports?
This scheme will be implemented with the best intentions. However there are concerns over the providers ability to deal with the supply and demand of cases. In addition, there remains concerns about how efficient the scheme be i.e. will there be continuity of recommendations offered by different specialist and providers in respect of employees who need to be referred on a number of occasions.
At this early stage it is a case of watch this space...
By employment law solicitor, Laura Wilson