The Fit for Work Service

The new Fit for Work Service ("FFW") has been much discussed at our seminars over the course of the previous 12 months.

You will recall that the creation of the now called Fit for Work Service was a result of a review of sickness absence undertaken by Dame Carol Black as part of a review commissioned by the Government.

The report made a number of recommendations some of which were accepted and some were not, but which included the introduction of a Government funded assessment by Occupational Health Professionals of employees absent from work for in excess of a four week period.

In July 2014 the Government announced that the service would be launched in late 2014 and delivered by Health Management Limited in England and Wales and in a separate service administered by the Government in Scotland by NHS Scotland. 

In December 2014 a Fit for Work website and telephone lines were launched. 

The purpose of the Fit for Work service is to provide:

  1. free health and work advice through its website; and
  2. a free referral service for an Occupational Health assessment for employees who have reached or whose GP expects them to reach four weeks of sickness absence.

The Department for Work and Pensions has now published three separate guidance notes, for GP's, employers and employees on the new Fit for Work Service. 

The advice given is wide ranging and can include help to employers to identify adjustments to enable an employee to return to work.

Whilst an employee would normally be referred to the service by their GP, employers can also make a referral.  The referral is however, dependant upon the employee's consent and on either the GP or employer considering that there is a reasonable likelihood of the employee making at least a phased return to work. 

Any assessment undertaken by the FFW will be by a registered Occupational Health Care Professional with Occupational Health qualifications, experience or able to demonstrate experience and skills appropriate to working in an Occupational Health context. 

Once an employee is referred it is anticipated that the service will contact the employee by telephone within two working days.  The initial assessment will usually be undertaken by telephone however, where a face to face assessment is required this will take place within five working days of that decision being taken.  The assessment will take place at a location within 90 minutes travelling time by public transport of the employee's home address and an employee can claim reasonable travel expenses from the FFW provider.  Where an employee is unable to travel, alternative arrangements presumably a home visit will be made. 

It is integral to the assessment that the employee will provide information in relation to their medical condition together with their job role and any factors which would affect their return to work.  The purpose of the assessment is to identify all possible obstacles which could prevent the employee from returning to work to include health work, and personal factors.  It is intended that an employee and the FFW case manager will then agree a return to work plan to enable the employee to make a safe and sustained return to work. 

Where the employee consents, the case manager may contact the employee's employer to seek assistance in the creation of the return to work plan.  Guidance also suggests that the case manager may need to contact the individual's employer for example, there is a requirement to have a better understanding of the workplace context and any limitations that the employee anticipates or where the employee's relationship with the employer is in itself identified as an obstacle to a return to work. 

With the employee's consent, the return to work plan will be provided to both the employee's GP and employer. 

The plan will state whether an employee is fit for work or maybe fit for work subject to the employer being able to follow certain recommendations. 

Where an employee meets the criteria for Access To Work, their employer will also be able to support a return to work by provision of specialist aids and equipment and even support workers.

Where a return to work plan has been adopted then the employees case manager will contact the employee after the proposed return to work date to seek an update in relation to the implementation of the return to work plan. 

Where in the short term an employee is not fit to return to work, a case manager will consider whether a further assessment will be necessary.

Where recommendations in a plan have not been actioned, a case manager may also contact an employer to ensure that the recommendations have been fully understood and to offer support where necessary.  A return to work plan can also be accepted in place of a fit note as evidence of sickness absence for statutory sick pay purposes. 

The employee will be discharged from the FFW service two weeks after they have returned to work including, beginning with a phased return and on the date when the FFW decides that no further assistance can be offered which will be either when the employee has been with the service for three months or at the point where the FFW decides that the employee will be unable to return to work for three months of more.

It will be interesting to assess how the system works in practice at our forthcoming Employment Law Update Seminar

Posted on: 27/01/2015

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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