The new service immediately provides access to expert and impartial advice, delivered by a team of occupational health professionals, to employees, employers and GPs. A referral service providing occupational health assessments will also be fully phased in by May 2015. This guide explains how the new service will work and what you need to do to make sure you are ready for it.
Telephone and web advice
If an employee finds that a health condition is affecting their job, employees, employers or GPs will be able to obtain advice and support on gaining information on adjustments which could assist them in helping employees stay in or return to employment. More generic work related health advice is also available. You can contact the service on 0800 032 6235 or at www.fitforwork.org.
Those employees who have been absent from work for over four weeks due to sickness can be referred for an occupational health assessment for free. Those employees should have a reasonable likelihood of making at least a phased return to work, not have been referred for a fit for work assessment within the last 12 months and have not received a Return to Work Plan (explained further below).
The Government expects that the majority of referrals will be made by GPs. However, employers can also make referrals, if the employee consents.
It is intended that the assessments will usually take place over the telephone, with an occupational health professional, within two days of a referral. If a face to face assessment is deemed necessary, it is also intended these will take place within 5 working days of a decision being made. These are in our opinion very challenging targets.
The occupational health professional will become the case manager and will seek to identify all health, work, personal and social issues that may prevent the employee from returning to work. The assessment will involve agreeing upon a Return to Work Plan (“the Plan”) reflecting the assessment, advice and recommendations in order to help the employee return to work more quickly.
On the basis that the employee consents, the case manager may contact the employee's HR or Line Manager to assist in formulating the Plan. The Plan will then be shared with the employee, the employer and GP. The Plan will detail any recommendations which can be implemented – but will remain the decision of the employee and employer on whether to do so – although the parties are encouraged to act upon them.
The Plan can be accepted by the employer as evidence of sickness absence in the same way as a GP’s fit note.
Existing occupational services
Employers should be aware that this new service will not replace any existing occupation service currently provided by them, but will seek to compliment and work in conjunction with it. Employers do not have to use this service.
Benefits to employers
The most obvious benefit is that this new service will hopefully assist to reduce sick pay costs to businesses by getting employees back to work as quickly as possible. The fact that the service is free will also be welcome news to small to medium sized businesses who currently do not have access to occupational health resources. The Plan may also help to provide recommendations and steps to support employees return to work and how to further prevent any re-occurring or occurring absence in the first place.
If a health professional, as part of the Plan, recommends medical treatment as part of either the Fit for Work or any employer arranged occupational health service, in order to encourage employers to fund such treatments, there will be a tax exemption of up to £500 per employee per tax year from 1 January 2015 for those employers who do provide such treatment.
What you need to do
It is advisable, although not mandatory, to update your sickness policies to reflect the availability of this new Fit for Work service. Employers may also find it useful to consult on the new service so that employees and managers are well equipped to engage into it and understand the Return to Work Plans.
The Department for Work and Pensions has released a good practice guide which some employers may find useful. Please click here to view this guide.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.