News and Updates

Fit for Work

In one of our previous articles (which can be found here) we discussed the Heath and Work Service, a new initiative introduced by the government in late 2014 to provide assistance to employers when dealing with employees who have been absent from work due to sickness for four weeks or more.  

Further to its introduction, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have released guidance for employers, employees and GPs on how to use the Health and Work Service, now renamed ‘Fit for Work’ (which can be found here).

Using the Fit for Work (“FFW”) service, employers can receive free health and work advice concerning their employees, as well as a free referral to an occupational health assessment if the employee is referred to FFW by their GP. Employers can also choose to refer their employees  FFW if the employee in question:

  • is still employed  by the employer at the time of referral;
  • has been absent from work for four weeks or more due to sickness
  • has a reasonable likelihood of making at least a phased return to work within three months;
  • has not been referred for a FFW assessment already within the last 12 months; and
  • has granted their consent to be referred to FFW

Employees will not be eligible if they have already been referred to FFW by their GP.

Once an employee has been referred and assessed by an occupational health professional, FFW will send the employer a Return to Work Plan, which provides advice and recommendations for how to help the employee return to work as soon as possible based on the assessment. If the employee’s consent is given, FFW may choose to contact someone within the employer’s organisation, such as the employee’s line manager, to determine the best course of action in safely and efficiently bringing the employee back to work.

The recommendations made in the Return to Work Plan are for the employer and the employee to collectively decide whether to implement them or not, but the DWP encourage all parties to consider the recommendations made and act on them. It is also important to note that a Return to Work Plan will count as evidence of sickness absence therefore employers will not require their employee to obtain a fit note as further proof of sickness absence. 

In addition to the above, from this year the government is granting a tax exemption of up to £500 per employee per tax year to employers if they fund the costs of medical treatments recommended to them by a healthcare professional under FFW or through any occupational health service arranged by the employer. In order to benefit from the exemption, the medical treatment recommended as part of helping the employee return to work after a period of sickness absence, and either:

  • a healthcare professional has assessed them as ‘not fit for work’ or ‘may be fit for work’ for at least 28 consecutive days, due to ill health or injury; or
  • they have been absent from work for at least 28 consecutive days due to ill health or injury.

Employers do not need to take any drastic measures to refer employees to FFW, but should consider updating their sickness absence policies so that all staff are informed about the availability of FFW and how it can help them return to work after illness. Start-ups and small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) should take advantage of this new service, as well as employers with limited occupational health schemes, to help their employees return to work as quickly and safely as possible.

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