Fit for Work Guidance Issued
The Department for Work and Pensions has issued guidance on the new Fit for Work Service.
Three separate guidance notes have been issued, aimed at employers, employees and GPs respectively. Fit for Work offers a free occupational health assessment for employees who have been or are expected to be off work for four weeks to help them to return to work sooner. It also offers work-related health advice to employees, employers and GPs through a telephone service and the website. The advice service is up and running, but the occupational health referral service is being rolled out over a period of months, with details expected to be announced in early 2015.
The employer guidance explains that:
- an employer can refer an employee for an assessment once the employee has been off work for four weeks due to illness. GPs can make a referral earlier than four weeks if they judge the employee will be absent for four weeks and an earlier referral may be beneficial. Referral requires the employee’s consent and there must also be a reasonable likelihood of the employee making at least a phased return to work. The majority of referrals are expected to be made by GPs;
- once a referral has been made, Fit for Work will contact the employee within two days to conduct an occupational health assessment at a convenient time. If a face to face meeting is deemed necessary (expected in only a minority of cases), this will take place within five days of that judgment being made. The employee’s reasonable travelling expenses will be reimbursed to the employee on request;
- the assessment will be carried out by an occupational health professional who becomes the employee’s case manager through to the end of the process. They will look at the health, work, personal and social issues that may be affecting the employee’s ability to return to work and this will result in a Return to Work Plan;
- the Return to Work Plan will be shared with the employee and, with their consent, with their employer and GP. There is no obligation on either party to implement the recommendations but they are encouraged to do so. The case manager will contact the employee at an arranged point to check if the Plan is on course and will contact the employee shortly after the return to work date. A further assessment may be arranged if, for example, the employee has not returned to work as anticipated;
- employees will be discharged from Fit for Work when they have returned to work (including a phased return 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. Employees cannot be referred back to Fit for Work for 12 months;
- Fit for Work will contact employers when it is necessary to gain a better understanding of the specific workplace than can be provided by the employee; if recommendations in the Return to Work Plan have not been actioned; or if the relationship with the employer has been identified as one of the obstacles to a return to work; and
- employers will be entitled to a tax exemption where they fund the costs of medical treatment recommended by a healthcare professional as part of either Fit for Work or any employer-arranged occupational health service. The tax exempt expenditure is limited to £500 per employee per tax year.
The guidance also includes a set of frequently asked questions dealing with the following categories:
- Fit for Work providers;
- referrals and eligibility;
- consent and data protection;
- employer involvement;
- Return to Work Plans; and
- further information.
Employers are recommended to update their sickness absence policies to reflect the availability of Fit for Work once it is available in their area.
All three sets of guidance can be accessed here.
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