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Fit for Work – further information

With Fit for Work currently being rolled out across the country, we’ve prepared some detailed information that you may find useful to help understand the new service.

Fit for Work is a government service that aims to help employees get back in to work sooner and reduce the chance of them falling out of work due to ill-health. It provides specialist occupational health advice at an early stage; working alongside GPs, employers and employer occupational health services to reduce absenteeism due to sickness.

Being employed helps promote recovery and rehabilitation and prevents the harmful physical, mental and social effects of long-term sickness absence. Fit for Work is designed to assist you as an employer in helping employees to get back to work as soon as is appropriate.

Fit for Work has two key elements:

  • Providing advice for all work-related matters through both their website and a telephone line
  • Assessing individual cases where the employee is, or is likely to be, off work for four weeks or more, providing tailored advice and a return to work plan

Fit for Work can help reduce your sick pay costs, by enabling employees to return to work earlier. Fit for Work can particularly benefit Small to Medium Sized Enterprises which may have limited access to occupational health advice and services.

It’s currently being rolled out across England, Wales and Scotland, details of which can be found here http://fitforwork.org/rollout-map/

The roll-out is initially for GP referrals to the scheme, however from Autumn 2015 employers will also be able to make a referral after an employee has been absent for four weeks.

Advice

Fit for Work provides advice to help support your employees when a health condition is affecting their job. This might involve providing information on the type of adjustments which could help them stay in or return to work, or more general work related health advice. The advice service is open to all UK citizens.

Individual Assessments

Referrals will be appropriate if they:

  • Are an employed person absent from work
  • Will be absent for four weeks or more
  • Have a reasonable prospect of returning to work
  • Consent to the referral
  • Have not already been referred in the last 12 months and don’t already have a return to work plan

Employees referred to the scheme will be contacted within two working days of the referral. An occupational health specialist will contact the employee, normally by phone, although in some cases this may be face-to-face, and assess their circumstances. Following this they will create a return to work plan in agreement with the employee. The occupational health specialist will be the case manager for that employee.

Referrals may not be necessary in instances where employees are receiving support from an employer’s occupational health and where this is sufficient to enable them to return to work. However, referring employees absent for four weeks to the scheme should be considered the default position. In some instances it may be more appropriate to wait for an improvement or better prospects for a return to work before referring.

The Return to Work Plan will reflect the assessment and provide advice and recommendations for interventions to help the employee return to work more quickly. This will be shared with the employee, and with employee consent can be shared with the GP and/or the employer.

Subject to the employee’s consent at all stages, the Fit for Work case manager may deem it necessary to contact the employer to help form the return to work plan. You will subsequently be provided with the plan in order to inform you of the recommendations. With consent, it may be appropriate to incorporate an employer occupational health service also.

The decision about whether to implement any recommendations made in a return to work plan remains with you as the employer and your employee. You will need to consider the recommendations in the plan and decide if the interventions/adjustments are reasonable and affordable. It is not mandatory to progress the recommendations unless it is required to meet the obligations of the Equality Act 2010, however you should act on the advice where possible in order to help reduce sickness absence. On 1 January 2015 the Government introduced a tax exemption of up to £500 (per year, per employee) on medical treatments recommended to help their employees return to work.

You can accept the return to work plan as evidence of sickness absence in exactly the same way as a GP fit note. You do not need to ask your employee to obtain further fit notes.

Following the return to work plan, the case manager will contact the employee again to check the plan is on course that they have returned to work. If they have not returned to work as planned the case manager can assess the case further. Employees will be able to return to work sooner than the planned date if appropriate.

To utilise the Fit for Work service effectively and fairly, you should consider updating your sickness absence policy to incorporate Fit for Work. You might also want to tell your staff about the advice that is available from their website and telephone line.

Managers will also need to be prepared for:

  • Potential phone calls from the service if an employee is referred for an individual assessment
  • Referring employees to the service themselves from Autumn 2015
  • Dealing with a return to work plan and considering its recommendations
  • Accepting a return to work plan instead of a fit note

For more details, visit the Fit for Work website:

www.fitforwork.org (England and Wales)

www.fitforworkscotland.scot (Scotland)