March 25, 2015

How will the new Fit For Work service affect your business?

Last month, we discussed the Government’s new “Fit for Work” occupational health assessment service, aimed at employees classed as long term sick.

It triggers when an employee has been (or is likely to be) absent for four weeks or more and referrals can be requested by employers or the employee’s own GP.

This is such a big change to Employment Law that we thought we would go into more detail about it and highlight some of its most important aspects.

At present, Fit For Work is being piloted in Sheffield and should roll out through England, Wales and Scotland during 2015. There are no specific roll-out dates but we understand the North West, Wales and the West Midlands may be next.

The intention is to help employees who are off long-term sick return to work quicker. Employees must give specific consent before they can be referred for an assessment. Employers and employees can already access a new web and telephone advice service about work-related health matters.

In England and Wales. the website is www.fitforwork.org and the telephone number is 0800 032 6235. In Scotland, it’s www.fitforworkscotland.scot and the phone number is 0800 019 2211. There are no provisions for Northern Ireland.

How does it work?

Assessments will be undertaken by a qualified, experienced occupational health professional; normally over the telephone. Such individuals are not necessarily doctors but will operate under the direction of occupational medicine specialists.

The assessment will seek to identify all potential obstacles preventing return to work. This 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.

This may remove the need for employees to submit further “fit notes”. The return to work plan is sufficient evidence for statutory sick pay purposes. Employers (and employees) are under no obligation to accept the plan.

There are some specific eligibility criteria to access the new service. The employee must have been absent for at least four week and 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 e.g. 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.

Where you already have occupational health provisions, Fit for Work assessments can supplement but are not intended to replace them. Where you don’t have such provisions, they can help to reduce your sick pay costs.

The service is free and employees may be assisted to return to work more quickly, saving you money. There is also a new tax exemption where employers fund Fit for Work or employer-arranged occupational health treatments.

It may be helpful to plan who within your management team will be the point of contact for “Fit for Work” enquiries. If you have any more questions, get in touch.

By MIke Fitzsimmons

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