GPs will be “central” to managing sickness absence and helping 300,000 people stay off benefits, following a government review.
The scheme will save employers up to £160 million in sick pay and could boost the UK economy by £900 million a year.
Launching in 2014, the advisory service will allow GPs to identify employees who need support as well as issuing ‘fit notes’.
Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform said: “Long-term sickness absence is a burden to business, to the taxpayer and to the thousands of people who get trapped on benefits when they could actually work.
“So for the first time, all employers, big or small, will have access to a service that offers the early support they need to keep people in work and fulfill their aspirations.”
The government aims to build a framework where employers can get advice on managing sickness absence.
Under the current system, the vast majority of fit notes declare employees to be unfit for work.
Now, GPs will work with employers and the government to revise fit note guidance and enable earlier returns to work.
Dr Rob Hampton is a Leicestershire GP and clinical lead for the Fit for Work service, which has been piloting work support services since April 2010.
He said: “Our experience at Fit for Work is that it is non-medical interventions, have the most significant effect on enabling people to stay in the workplace.
“One of the most powerful messages from the Leicestershire experience is that 70% of people we help to return to work cite ‘non-medical interventions’, such as mediation/negotiation, personal support and help with changing work roles as the ones that made the most difference.”
However, he added that a purely advisory service would be less able to manage all the necessary interventions that help people stay in the workplace.
Announced last week, the new service is one of a series of measures to prevent employees going on to sickness benefits.
The independent occupational health assessment and advice service is part of the governments response to recommendations from health and business experts Dame Carol Black and David Frost.