Fit for Work Service- What is it?
Fit for Work is a new, free service which was introduced in December 2014 that aims to help employees stays in work when they are ill and to return more quickly when they are absent from work on a long term basis. It is envisaged that the service will provide benefit to small and medium sized enterprises and that it will complement existing occupational health practices. The service will be fully phased in by autumn 2015 and will include two elements: advice and referral.
In terms of the advisory service, employers will be able to obtain free health and work advice through a website (www.fitforwork.org) and a telephone line.
The referral service will allow employers and GP’s to make free referrals for an occupational health assessment for employees who have reached, or whose GP expects them to reach, four weeks of sickness absence. It will not be mandatory for employers to make referrals and it is envisaged that the majority of such will be made by GPs. In order to be eligible for a referral, an employee must have been absent from work for four weeks due to illness and must have a reasonable likelihood of making at least a phased return within three months. Employees must consent to the referral and an employee can only be referred once every 12 months.
Upon receipt of a referral an occupational health professional will assess the employee. Telephone assessment will take place within two days of the referral and face to face assessments will take place within five days. The assessment will include a return to work place, which will include advice and recommendations for the employer, the employee and their GP. The assessment will seek to provide practical advice and will take into account the employee’s current health condition and the employer’s business and needs. Following the assessment it will be the occupational health professional who will contact the employee to ensure that the plan remains on course and to ensure the employee has returned to work following the date set for such. The occupational health professional will determine whether a further assessment is necessary and whether any existing return to work plan needs revising. The involvement of the Fit to Work scheme will last for three months.
Employers will be permitted to accept a return to work place as evidence of sickness absence in the same way as a fit note issued by a GP and will not need to ask employees for further fit note. As with recommendations made under fit notes, employers are not obliged to implement the recommendations set in the return to work place, unless to do so would be considered a reasonable adjustment under the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
The Department for Work and Pensions has published some guidance for employers on using Fit to Work which can be accessed from the www.gov.uk website however, in advance of the service being fully implemented employers should look to update their sickness absence policies to make reference to the introduction of such. Employers should also consider training managers and getting in touch with an occupational health provider to whom future referrals could be made.