Long term sickness absence is something that a number of employers struggle to manage. However, it would seem that help is at hand in the form of a Government funded service called Fit for Work.
Fit for Work is a new state-backed and funded service which started its rollout in December 2014, after being piloted around the country. It has been designed principally to offer all employers free occupational health assessments for any employees who are off work sick for four or more continuous weeks of sickness absence. There will also be case management assistance to assist employers to get their employees back to work.
The service was previously called the Health and Work Service but was re-named in October 2014. It is one and the same thing just under a new name.
What type of support does Fit for Work provide?
Fit for Work provides employers with two types of support:
- Free Health & Work Advice – This is to try and assist employers with absence prevention and provide employers with support in health-related work matters including adjustments. Advice for employers in England & Wales can be found through the website at www.fitforwork.org (they have an online chat system) or by telephoning 0800 032 6235. Advice is available to employers, employees and GP’s. This is now up and running. We have had a positive experience with the online chat system.
- Free referral for an occupational health assessment – Employers and GPs will be able to refer employees to the service. The trigger point for a referral is 4 weeks’ absence. This service will try and get employees back to work. The employer may receive a Return to Work Plan which will provide advice and recommendations. Also, a caseworker will be available to assist employers to implement the Return to Work Plan. This service is not yet live. It is being introduced on a phased basis which is due to be completed by May 2015…watch this space for updates on the rollout plan
What will the process be once an employee has been referred for a Fit for Work Assessment?
Step 1: Telephone assessment
An occupational health professional will contact the employee and conduct an occupational health assessment (usually over the telephone) within 2 working days of receiving a referral.
Step 2: Face-to-face assessment (if deemed necessary)
This will take place within 5 working days of the decision that a face-to-face assessment is necessary.
Step 3: A Return to work plan
This will be created by the medical professional the assessment(s). The plan will reflect the assessment(s), advice and recommendations agreed with the employee to help them return to work more quickly. The Return to Work Plan will be shared with the employer and the GP; if the employee’s consent is given.
Step 4: Post-return to work plan review
The occupational health professional will contact the employee to check that the Return to Work Plan is on course. It might be that a further assessment is necessary and the Return to Work Plan is revised. There will be on-going support for the employer too.
Step 5: Discharged from Fit for Work
Employees will be discharged from Fit to Work when they have returned to work, or at the point when Fit for Work can no longer provide further assistance, or if a return to work has not been possible after three months.
Additional information that employers should know about Fit for Work service:
- Each employee can only be referred to the service once in each 12 month period, although there is no limit on the number of employees any one employer can refer.
- Like any other occupational health assessment, employees must give their consent to be referred to the service.
- Employers do not have to accept the Return to Work Plan or implement any of its recommendations. Unless this is required to meet the employer’s obligations to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
- The employee does not need to provide a separate fit note as well as a Return to Work Plan. An employee will only need to obtain a fit note from their GP if they remain off work when they are discharged from Fit for Work.
- GP’s are also able to refer an employee for an occupational health assessment at any stage, even before the 4-week trigger.
What steps might employers consider taking next?
- Update sickness absence policies to include the Fit for Work provisions.
- We would suggest having 1 or 2 managers who deal with this service. You will need to ensure they know how to handle referrals, use the advice line and how to manage the return to work plans.
- Liaise with existing occupational health providers – remember the Fit for Work service is designed to run alongside any existing occupational services.
- Keep track of dates – set reminders that will inform you when an employee has been off on sick leave for 4 weeks. You can then decide whether you want to refer the employee for an occupational health assessment if the GP has not already done so.
- Keep an eye on our forthcoming e-shots, we will keep you posted on the rollout dates for the free referral service.
Should you wish to take advice on the Fit for Work Service or any other aspects of sickness absence; please contact our Employment & HR team for a confidential chat.