NICE has drafted an updated series of recommendations to help organisations and employers ensure staff are supported while on long-term sick-leave and on their return to the working environment.
According to the institute, UK employers spend £9bn a year on sick pay and associated costs.
It also flagged that there are concerns that many staff who take long-term sick-leave do not return to work. In England, 45% of claimants of Employment and Support Allowance took a period of sickness absence before they left employment, NICE noted.
The updated draft guidance published this month builds on guidelines from 2009 and is open for consultation until 5 July 2019.
Under the new guidance, NICE suggested that early intervention could benefit both employees and their employers, and that organisations should consider offering staff with assistance programmes.
As part of this, the guidance states that providing employees with counselling and physiotherapy may help staff deal with issues that could affect their health and work performance.
Should a member of staff wish to participate in this, employers must assure them that all contact with the programme is confidential and that information is not shared with the organisation.
In addition, the guidance suggests that organisations should put measures in place to ensure a smooth and sustainable return to work after a long period of absence.
For example, NICE advised employers to discuss any adjustments their staff may need on their return to work, as well as different support programmes.
For people who have been absent for four or more weeks because of a musculoskeletal condition, the guidance called on employers to consider interventions to help them return to work, such as a programme of graded activity led by a physical or occupational therapist.
To help support people with mental health issues who have been off work for a period of four weeks or more, NICE recommended that employers consider developing a three-month structured support plan to also help reduce the likelihood of further absence.
Under the support plan, employers should have regular contact with individuals to evaluate progress, the institute noted.
NICE noted that, during periods of long-term sickness, a medical practitioner with the most relevant and recent knowledge of that person’s health should provide a fit note.
It highlighted that this could be a clinician or specialist involved in the patients’ secondary care and should include how their condition or treatment might affect their work.
As part of this, staff who are assessed as not fit for work should remain regular contact with their workplace, NICE guidance said.