Fit for Work: cutting absence with complementary OH

The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Fit for Work service has been set up to cut incidents of long-term sickness absence by helping employees return to work.

With the annual cost of sickness absence having risen to almost £29 billion for UK organisations1, the initiative is set to help minimise this financial impact while reducing business disruption and providing occupational health (OH) support to patients.

But how can the new service help HR professionals? PMI Health Group outlines five key ways Fit for Work can benefit your business and complement existing OH services?

1/ Free OH assessments

Although the Fit for Work service is not designed to replace existing occupational health services, it is free and offers employees who have been off sick for four weeks or more independent, objective assessments by OH professionals.

Eligible employees can be referred to the service by their employer or by their GP. OH professionals will then identify obstacles preventing the employee from returning to work and produce a Return to Work Plan tailored to the employee’s needs. This will include recommendations for medical interventions where appropriate.

Employees are not obliged to use the service and can only be referred once in every 12 months and only if they have a reasonable likelihood of making at least a phased return to work.

Web and telephone advice is also available to employers for work-related health matters affecting employees and the workplace.

2/ Complementary OH provision

Although Fit for Work delivers some aspects of an occupational health service, it does not deliver a fully comprehensive service.

It has instead been designed to complement existing occupational health services, filling the gap in support where it currently exists.

The service, for example, is only available after an employee has been absent for 28 days or longer. Employers may be keen to intervene sooner and this is where guidance from existing risk or occupational health professionals can help determine the most effective strategy for tackling absence and the appropriate benefits to use.

Furthermore, where a Fit for Work Case Manager has been appointed, they may contact an employer’s current occupational health adviser as part of an assessment when preparing a Return to Work Plan.

3/ Tax break for medical interventions

A tax exemption is available for medical treatments recommended to help employees return to work. The government has promoted this exemption through Fit for Work but it can include recommendations from your own occupational health provision as well as those that are part of the new service.

The tax exemption covers expenditure of up to £500 per employee, per tax year.

To qualify, employees must have been absent from work for at least 28 consecutive days due to ill health or injury, or they must have been assessed by a healthcare professional as not fit for work or may be fit for work for at least 28 consecutive days.

4/ Mental health support

Stress and mental illness is now the number one cause of workplace absence, responsible for more than half of all working days being lost every year.

Fit for Work will help address this problem by offering support to employees with mental health concerns.

From early 2016 employees referred to the service by their employer or GP will be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) through a free online service.

CBT, a short-term therapy that helps individuals to change negative thought processes and behaviours, has been supported by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) for tackling anxiety and depression.

5/ Medical evidence for SSP

Where employees have chosen to share their Fit for Work Return to Work Plans with employers, they can be used as medical evidence for Statutory Sick Pay purposes.

This makes GP consultations to obtain Fit Notes unnecessary and there is no need for an employer to request one to cover the period after which a Return to Work Plan was issued.

It should be remembered however that Fit for Work is not mandatory. As a consequence, Return to Work Plans may not be prepared in every case and fit notes can still be issued if deemed necessary in a GPs clinical judgement.

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Nearly one in ten companies have encountered employees with dementia (22/07/15)

Nearly one in ten (8 per cent) of UK companies have already encountered employees with dementia, new research has revealed.

The study, from employee health risk specialist PMI Health Group, found that 90 per cent of UK HR professionals believe dementia should represent a concern for business and

74 per cent agree with the Alzheimer’s Society’s recent calls for every company in the UK to have a dementia policy.

“The number of people with dementia is expected to increase to one million by 2021 and an ageing workforce means employees may be affected as both sufferers and carers,” said Mike Blake, Director at PMI Health Group.

“It is heartening to see from our survey that employers are now considering the need to provide education on the condition and to support staff who are either suffering from the condition or caring for someone with the condition.”

The research also revealed that HR professionals are being increasingly affected by the issue. Twenty-nine per cent have had to give staff time off to look after relatives with dementia and 69 per cent now offer flexible working to staff who are caring for elderly relatives.

Eldercare is also becoming more of a priority for HR departments and 69 per cent of HR professionals think employers have a responsibility to offer eldercare benefits to staff. These include access to helplines and specialists who can advise on, and manage, the needs of elderly relatives.


The online survey was conducted in June 2015 with 174 HR professionals across the UK.

PMI Health Group scored Gold for Investors In People (08/07/15)

Employee healthcare and risk management specialist PMI Health Group has been awarded a prestigious Gold rating from Investors in People.

Gold represents the achievement of world class best practice and requires the submission of an additional 126 pieces of evidence against the standard IIP accreditation.

The company is the only North West insurance or financial services-related company (in the 120-160 employees bracket) to have achieved the Gold standard – and one of only 10 insurance-related companies nationally.

“The Gold standard shows a truly cutting-edge organisation is operating at the very highest levels of people management practice,” said Carol Davidson, Investors in People Specialist. “It was a real pleasure to witness the high level of commitment and loyalty demonstrated by everyone to the continuous growth and success of PMI Health Group.

“The leadership team has been proactive in developing effective and robust people strategies.  The vision and values were particularly strong and well embedded across the organisation and have been instrumental in creating a more collaborative “one team” culture.”

In addition to the work done in achieving a “one team culture”, the company was also commended for having proactive learning and development approaches in place (with many staff undertaking Chartered Institute of Insurance (CII) examinations), improved communications (including real time reporting and TV information screens), and a robust approach to monitoring and managing performance through one-to-one sessions.

Richard Munro, Managing Director at PMI Health Group, added; “Putting our people first is a clear focus for the whole company so we’re delighted to see our efforts recognised in this way by the undisputed authority in performance through people. Investors in People is recognised across the world as a mark of excellence and was only achieved through a very rigorous and objective assessment.”

Time to switch off? Stress rises for staff checking work emails out of hours (07/07/15)

Nearly half of UK workers (41 per cent) access work emails outside office hours – and more than a third (35 per cent) say that doing so increases their stress.

According to a study by employee healthcare specialist PMI Health Group, professional pride is the biggest reason for reading or sending emails outside of work (45 per cent), closely followed by workload pressures (39 per cent).

“Mobile technology, such as smartphones and tablets, is extending the workplace into employees’ homes and while this offers benefits for flexible working, it can also lead to work-life boundaries becoming blurred,” said PMI Health Group Director Mike Blake.

“This is clearly posing a risk to employee mental health and employers must be mindful of the potential consequences of this, from reduced productivity to stress-related sickness absence.”

Of those checking emails out of hours, 83 per cent say they do so in the evening and more than a quarter (28 per cent) do so while they’re on holiday.

The study also revealed that younger workers are more inclined to access work emails out of hours than their older colleagues – 48 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 do so, compared to 31 per cent of those aged 45 to 54.

“This finding reflects the general use of smartphones and tablets with previous studies showing that the younger generation spend more time online(1) than older individuals,” Mike added.

(1)Ofcom, Adults’ media use and attitudes, 2015

The research was conducted among 582 adults, aged 16-64, who are currently in full or part-time employment in Great Britain. The interviewed sample was weighted to represent the adult population of Great Britain.

10 things to check before sending staff abroad

Sending staff overseas on assignment is not a straightforward task and there are a number of specific requirements employers must fulfil, which often change according to the country.

Here we outline 10 steps companies should look to take to cover themselves, ensure employees have access to appropriate medical care and ensure they meet legal requirements.

1/ Policy is a priority

The first thing to establish before staff head abroad is whether they are covered under the company’s existing health and safety or duty of care policy.

If not, it is important to set concrete standards for all employees who are assigned abroad.

Such standards might be designed to meet requirements in the organisation’s home country with extra provision made where required. Alternatively, they might be designed to meet the standards of the country with the most stringent health and safety requirements in which the company operates.

Either way, it is important to be able to demonstrate a firm duty of care, in order to manage risk, provide employees with peace of mind and ensure legal compliance.

2/ The importance of good education

 Making the transition to living abroad can be difficult, especially without access to the right information.

It is crucial that employees understand the cultural nuances of the country they are heading to. In Dubai, for example, public decency laws forbid everything from kissing in public to cross-dressing, while homosexuality and extramarital sex are also banned.

Cultural awareness training should also include the political, medical and security risks of the countries involved, ensuring staff do not inadvertently find themselves in a difficult situation or cause damage to company reputation.

Equally, employees should be made fully aware of what procedure to follow in case of a medical emergency and provided details for medical insurance, local healthcare and who to contact for advice and support.

3/ A risky business?

Foreign working assignments are no different to those within an organisation’s home nation in that risk assessments must be conducted to identify and mitigate any risks employees face.

Does the workplace meet the same standards as those expected in the UK? Do staff have access to proper working adjustments to account for disability or physical impairments? All such questions must be addressed before staff are sent abroad.

Of course, there are also unique risks that will apply to certain countries and processes must be put in place to mitigate those factors. In certain high-risk countries, kidnap and extortion represent a very real risk so an employer might consider providing extra security or investing in kidnap and ransom insurance cover.

4/ Ensure staff are fit to fly

As well as determining the risks that relate to certain countries, it is also necessary to identify the specific risks that relate to each employee.

A pre-travel health check is an extremely useful tool for determining the overall health of staff before they have even left the country, allowing proactive action to be taken to address any problem trends. Underlying medical conditions can also be identified, allowing treatment to be organised prior to travel in the comfort of a familiar healthcare system, rather than being identified once already overseas.

Such screenings can also highlight any recommended working adjustments and reduce the risk of a secondment being cut short due to illness or even highlight situations where an employee’s health should prevent them from working abroad.

5/ Prevention better than the cure

Travelling overseas can leave employees open to a number of preventable illnesses. But, in this case, proper preparation can reduce the chance of problems occurring down the line.

For example, staff taking long-haul flights – particularly those who are older or subject to certain risk factors –  might be given advice on how to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), including exercises they can do on the plane.

A range of tropical diseases, from cholera and typhoid to hepatitis and yellow fever, also pose a threat, so it is important to ensure vaccinations and anti-malarial drugs are arranged where necessary. In the case of yellow fever, some countries in Asia require a mandatory International Certificate of Vaccination against the disease.

6/ Don’t rely on EHIC

It might be tempting for some employers to rely on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to cover treatment for staff stationed throughout the EU.

The EHIC is free of charge and provides access to state-provided healthcare in European Economic Area (EEA) countries, including Switzerland, at a reduced cost, or sometimes for free. It will cover your treatment until you return to the UK.

However, the scheme is subject to a number of restrictions and may not provide employees with access to the kind of comprehensive care they want or need. It will only provide access to state facilities, which may be oversubscribed, underfunded, remote and have a shortage of English-speaking staff.

It is designed only to provide short-term coverage and will not pay for emergency evacuation or repatriation.

7/ Staying at the cutting edge

Employers and employees need to be aware that other countries might not adopt new treatments as quickly as the UK.

Often this is because the financial cost of a nationwide roll-out can be prohibitive, while other nations are cautious when it comes to approving a new drug or treatment before it has been tried and tested on a large scale.

This means access to cutting-edge medical treatment for conditions such as cancer may be limited while overseas and employers should look to put a policy in place that helps staff in such situations.

Not all insurance policies will cover the cost of such treatments, so it is necessary to check the terms and conditions to confirm staff will be covered for all licensed medical treatments.

8/ The right level of cover?

When it comes to providing staff with access to treatment overseas, international medical insurance remains the best option.

In fact, it is mandatory in some countries. Employees posted to Saudi Arabia or Abu Dhabi, for example, must have appropriate health insurance in order to obtain residency visas and work permits.

Employers who believe business travel insurance will suffice often leave their staff exposed because such policies will only cover short-term emergency treatment.

Comprehensive international policies are more likely to comply with the legal requirements of the host country and cover things like an emergency helpline, medical evacuation and outpatient treatment. Although it is worth noting that the employee will usually pay the bill for outpatient care before claiming it back from the insurer.

9/ Peace of mind

Settling in a foreign country can represent a challenge and it is easy for employees to feel alienated or isolated if they struggle to make the initial adjustment.

Such feelings can create a sense of overall unhappiness and contribute to stress in the workplace, impacting upon productivity and potentially leading to long-term absence.

Mental illness and stress are issues that remain as crucial for overseas staff as they are for UK-based employees, therefore it is vital to ensure they have access to the appropriate support.

This might mean providing newly-assigned staff with a ‘buddy’ to help them cope with the transition. Or, as a more comprehensive option, Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can offer access to a confidential support helpline and counselling.

10/ Uninsured liability?

Check the small print of your Employers’ Liability policy. Standard Employers’ Liability insurance does not normally cover staff working abroad for extended periods and country-specific policies may be required

In many countries it is a statutory requirement for an employer to have liability insurance to cover employees who are injured or contract a work-related illness. It is also advisable to conduct full health risk assessments on the destinations you send staff and fully brief them on the local issues before they set off.

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True or false: Test your knowledge on employee eye care legislation

True or false: Test your knowledge on employee eye care legislation

Looking after employees’ visual wellbeing makes good business sense.

Problems with vision can compromise workplace safety, result in lower levels of productivity and cause eye-related ill health and sickness absence.

Evidence shows that some workers may experience ‘temporary’ visual fatigue, leading to a range of symptoms, such as blurred vision, red or sore eyes, headaches or the adoption of awkward posture, which can cause musculoskeletal problems.

In addition to the clear business and moral responsibilities, companies also have legal obligations around the provision of eye tests – but do you know if you’re complying with current regulations?

Put your knowledge to the test with our latest ‘true or false’ quiz – and stay on the right side of the law.

1/ True or false: Employers have a responsibility to offer eye tests to employees that use computer screens as part of their job.

2/ True or false: Repeat eye tests must also be provided to employees on request.

3/ True or false: If employees require spectacles following an eye test, employers are legally required to pay for all prescriptions.

4/ True or false: Employers are legally required to provide paid time-off for eye tests.

See below for answers.


1/ True or false: Employers have a responsibility to offer eye tests to employees that use computer screens as part of their job.


The onus is on employees to request an appropriate eye sight test. This means a ‘sight test’ as defined in the Opticians Act legislation. The test includes a test of vision and an examination of the eye, and should also take account of the nature of the work undertaken including the distance at which display screens are viewed.

If requested however, under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, employers with staff who are considered to be ‘users’  of display screen equipment are obliged to provide those workers with “appropriate eye and eyesight tests” by an optometrist or doctor. Staff are regarded as ‘users’ if they normally use DSE for continuous or non-continuous spells of one hour or more at a time, if they use DSE in this way ‘more or less daily’, or if they have to transfer information quickly using DSE.According to the Health and Safety Executive, employers do not have to reimburse employees for tests that users have already had. They can instead arrange to provide another test.

The provision of the eye and eyesight tests and of ‘special corrective appliances’ under the DSE regulations is at the employers’ expense.

Employers may not refuse to provide a test on the grounds that a new recruit has already/recently had one provided in any previous period of employment.

2/ True or false: Repeat eye tests must also be provided to employees on request.


Employees wanting to be tested are entitled by law to further eye tests at regular intervals.

It is generally recommended that most people should get their eyes tested every two years but the frequency should be determined by clinical judgment and may depend on an individual’s age and state of vision.

If an employee is told that they need very frequent eye tests by their optometrist, the employer would only be required to provide these tests if the need for them arose as a consequence of Display Screen Equipment work.

3/ True or false: If employees require spectacles following an eye test, employers are legally required to pay for all prescriptions.


Employers only have to pay for ‘corrective appliances’ that are required for DSE use.

Employers do not have to pay the cost of ordinary prescriptions that happen to be suitable for your DSE work. Where bifocal and varifocal spectacles are prescribed, the employer is required to meet the costs of basic frames and lenses only. If users choose more costly appliances, the employer is not obliged to pay for these. Some employers opt to contribute to a portion equal to the cost of the basic appliance.

Where tests show that users need glasses specifically for DSE work, employers must pay the cost of a basic frame and the prescribed lenses. Any additional frame costs associated with an individual’s fashion choice should be met by the employee.

4/ True or false: Employers are legally required to provide paid time-off for eye tests.


Under current regulations there is no legal obligation for employers to provide paid time-off for eye tests.  However, where an existing user requires a test for the first time, the employer should arrange for a test to be carried out ‘as soon as practicable’.

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North-south divide in health and wellbeing provision for workers narrows (11/05/2015)

he north-south divide in health and wellbeing care for workers is narrowing, according to a study from PMI Health Group.

Latest research reveals nearly half of workers in the South (47 per cent) claim their employers make provision to look after their health and wellbeing, compared with 36 per cent in the north.

This 11 per cent gap however has narrowed year-on-year – down four per cent from 2014 when only 26 per cent of northern workers said their employers were looking after their health and wellbeing.

“This trend is very encouraging, particularly in light of a recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) report  that shows a stark contrast in life expectancy on either side of the north-south divide,” said PMI Health Group director Mike Blake.

“With increasing restrictions in NHS provision, it is in the interests of businesses to minimise the costly impact of sickness absence. Corporate healthcare initiatives can help achieve this, safeguarding employee wellbeing while helping to address health inequalities.”

The increase in health and wellbeing provision for northern workers has been reflected in burgeoning levels of satisfaction. The study found that half (50 per cent) of workers in the north are now satisfied with the range of benefits they receive from their employer – up from 31 per cent in 2014.

Workers in the south are also more satisfied with their benefits provision – up to 57 per cent from 42 per cent in 2014.


The research was conducted among 582 adults, aged 16-64, who are currently in full or part-time employment in Great Britain. The interviewed sample was weighted to represent the adult population of Great Britain.