From this week the new Fit For Work scheme provides employers in England and Wales with the opportunity to refer employees who have been absent from work due to illness or issues related to illness for 4 weeks or more for a free fitness to work assessment. There are two aspects of the service – a health and work advice service for employees, employers and GPs and a health assessment service where working employees can be referred by the employer for a 45 minute telephone assessment by an appropriately qualified health professional. The service is particularly aimed at Small and Medium sized businesses who have little or no occupational health support.
The aim is to plug the gap identified in the “Health at Work” review conducted by Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE in 2011where a lack of this type of support was identified as one of the obstacles preventing people returning to work. Studies have shown that where support is available after an absence of 4 weeks an employee is more likely to return to work rather than continue with a longer absence or leave the work place completely.
GPs are also able to refer employed patients to the service and employers may already be seeing Return to Work Plans. Any employed person is eligible for referral to the service after a sick absence of 4 weeks or more and where where is a realistic expectation of a return to work. The service is voluntary and the employee must verbally agree to the referral and again to having their Return to Work Plan shared with their GP or employer. The Return to Work Plan is completed by the health professional and agreed with the employee and will consider the factors that may affect a return to work considering a stepped approach that may include possible adjustments including a phased return to work. The Return to Work Plan can be considered evidence of sickness and so the employee does not need to return to the GP for a Fit Note.
The advantage to the employer is that this free service gives access to work related health advice and free occupational health referrals that will support the earlier return of employees from long term sickness thereby reducing the cost of sick absence. In addition I if medical interventions are recommended there could be tax exemptions of up to £500 per year per employee.
Referrals can be made by visiting the website www.FitforWork.org or calling 0800 032 6235.