The Fit for Work Service
The new Fit for Work Service("FFW") has been much discussed at our seminars over the course ofthe previous 12 months.
You will recall that thecreation of the now called Fit for Work Service was a result of areview of sickness absence undertaken by Dame Carol Black as partof a review commissioned by the Government.
The report made a number ofrecommendations some of which were accepted and some were not, butwhich included the introduction of a Government funded assessmentby Occupational Health Professionals of employees absent from workfor in excess of a four week period.
In July 2014 the Governmentannounced that the service would be launched in late 2014 anddelivered by Health Management Limited in England and Wales and ina separate service administered by the Government in Scotland byNHS Scotland.
In December 2014 a Fit forWork website and telephone lines were launched.
The purpose of the Fit forWork service is to provide:
- free health and work advicethrough its website; and
- a free referral service foran Occupational Health assessment for employees who have reached orwhose GP expects them to reach four weeks of sicknessabsence.
The Department for Work andPensions has now published three separate guidance notes, for GP's,employers and employees on the new Fit for WorkService.
The advice given is wideranging and can include help to employers to identify adjustmentsto enable an employee to return to work.
Whilst an employee wouldnormally be referred to the service by their GP, employers can alsomake a referral. The referral is however, dependant upon theemployee's consent and on either the GP or employer consideringthat there is a reasonable likelihood of the employee making atleast a phased return to work.
Any assessment undertaken bythe FFW will be by a registered Occupational Health CareProfessional with Occupational Health qualifications, experience orable to demonstrate experience and skills appropriate to working inan Occupational Health context.
Once an employee is referredit is anticipated that the service will contact the employee bytelephone within two working days. The initial assessmentwill usually be undertaken by telephone however, where a face toface assessment is required this will take place within fiveworking days of that decision being taken. The assessmentwill take place at a location within 90 minutes travelling time bypublic transport of the employee's home address and an employee canclaim reasonable travel expenses from the FFW provider. Wherean employee is unable to travel, alternative arrangementspresumably a home visit will be made.
It is integral to theassessment that the employee will provide information in relationto their medical condition together with their job role and anyfactors which would affect their return to work. The purposeof the assessment is to identify all possible obstacles which couldprevent the employee from returning to work to include health work,and personal factors. It is intended that an employee and theFFW case manager will then agree a return to work plan to enablethe employee to make a safe and sustained return towork.
Where the employee consents,the case manager may contact the employee's employer to seekassistance in the creation of the return to work plan. Guidance also suggests that the case manager may need to contactthe individual's employer for example, there is a requirement tohave a better understanding of the workplace context and anylimitations that the employee anticipates or where the employee'srelationship with the employer is in itself identified as anobstacle to a return to work.
With the employee's consent,the return to work plan will be provided to both the employee's GPand employer.
The plan will state whether anemployee is fit for work or maybe fit for work subject to theemployer being able to follow certainrecommendations.
Where an employee meets thecriteria for Access To Work, their employer will also be able tosupport a return to work by provision of specialist aids andequipment and even support workers.
Where a return to work planhas been adopted then the employees case manager will contact theemployee after the proposed return to work date to seek an updatein relation to the implementation of the return to workplan.
Where in the short term anemployee is not fit to return to work, a case manager will considerwhether a further assessment will be necessary.
Where recommendations in aplan have not been actioned, a case manager may also contact anemployer to ensure that the recommendations have been fullyunderstood and to offer support where necessary. A return towork plan can also be accepted in place of a fit note as evidenceof sickness absence for statutory sick paypurposes.
The employee will bedischarged from the FFW service two weeks after they have returnedto work including, beginning with a phased return and on the datewhen the FFW decides that no further assistance can be offeredwhich will be either when the employee has been with the servicefor three months or at the point where the FFW decides that theemployee will be unable to return to work for three months ofmore.
It will be interesting toassess how the system works in practice at our forthcoming Employment Law UpdateSeminar.
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.