September 14, 2016
Introducing… the Fit for Work service
In autumn 2015 the Government introduced the Fit for Work occupational health assessment service. The scheme allows employers to refer employees who have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more to a free and confidential Fit for Work consultation with occupational health professionals.
GPs have been able to refer employed patients for a voluntary occupational health assessment since the spring (2016), and now the service has been opened to allow employers to make referrals too.
The need for Fit for Work
Each year, around 865,000 employee absences last four weeks or more – these are generally classed as long term sickness absence.
Fit for Work aims to help employees who are long-term sick return to work more quickly.
Small and medium-sized businesses are likely to benefit most from the scheme: they comprise nearly half of the private sector workforce, but generally have limited occupational health support.
According to YouGov research, up to 70 per cent of employees have no access to this support via their employer.
How Fit for Work… works
Before an employee can be referred for assessment, they must give specific consent. Assessments are undertaken by a qualified, experienced occupational health professional, normally over the telephone.
Assessors are not necessarily doctors but will operate under the direction of occupational medicine specialists. The assessment will identify any potential obstacles preventing a return to work and is not limited to health and medical issues – it can also include work related matters and personal problems.
A Fit for Work case manager then drafts a return to work plan for discussion with the employer, subject to employee agreement.
If both parties (and possibly the employee’s GP) accept the return to work plan, it is then put in place.
When a plan is in place employees may not have to submit further fit notes as the plan provides sufficient evidence for statutory sick pay purposes.
Neither employer or employee is under any obligation to accept the plan.
There are several eligibility criteria required to access the new service:
- the employee must have been absent for at least four weeks;
- they must still be employed and consent to the referral;
- they must not have been referred within the previous twelve months, and:
- there must be a reasonable likelihood of making at least a phased return to work.
A GP may also exercise their clinical judgement not to refer somebody, for example in the case of terminal illness. They may also believe there is no realistic prospect of the employee returning to work within the scheme’s prescribed time-frame.
What Fit for Work means for employers
For employers who already have occupational health provisions, Fit for Work assessments can provide additional support but aren’t intended to replace an in-house service.
For those without occupational health expertise, the assessments can help to reduce sick pay costs and, as the service is free, there can be significant savings to be had by assisting employees to return to work more quickly.
Tax exemption is available for employers who fund Fit for Work or employer-arranged occupational health treatments.
If you use one of Moorepay’s employee handbooks, we will adjust the wording to reflect this scheme during your next review. In the meantime, it may be helpful to plan within your management team who will be the point of contact for Fit for Work enquiries.