Fit practices for new Fit for Work service

June 2015

Stethoscope 2

Employers should review their policies and employment contracts to include reference to ‘Fit for Work’ scheme.

The Fit for Work helpline is now up and running, with its referral services being rolled out across England, Wales and Scotland. It provides work-related health advice service designed to help employees stay in or return to work.

For employers, the aim of the service is to help manage the impact that sickness absence can have on the business, by providing advice and occupational health assessments for employees who are off for more than four weeks.

Employees will normally be referred by their GP, but an employer can make a referral to Fit for Work after four weeks of absence.  An occupational health assessment will be undertaken, usually by telephone, with the aim of producing a Return to Work plan designed to get the employee back to work. 

The major concern of the scheme is that the employee has to consent to the referral in the first place, and also has to agree to the plan being shared with their employer and GP. This makes engagement with the scheme entirely voluntarily and depends on the employee’s willingness to return to work.

The plan can be accepted by employers as sufficient evidence of sickness for Statutory Sick Pay purposes in place of a Fit Note, but the employer is not obliged to accept the plan or implement any of its recommendations.  However, there would need to be a good reason to reject any recommendations and employers may need to consider obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments where disabled employees are involved. It is also unclear what status will be given to the recommendations made where for example an employer doesn’t respond or make the proposed adjustments, and where there is any later claim by an employee under the Equality Act. Even where the employee isn’t thought to be disabled, employers must give any Fit for Work plans careful consideration.  

Businesses should think about reviewing sickness absence policies and procedures to reflect the services coming from Fit for Work.  So, for example, it would be sensible to say that employees should cooperate with any referral to Fit for Work, whether it’s by their GP or via the employer. 

Because there is nothing that employers can do if an employee refuses to take part in the Fit for Work service, the only option might be to withhold company contractual sick pay, as distinct from SSP, so it’s worth setting out that any refusal to cooperate could result in any sick pay due under the contract of employment being withheld.

If you would like my advice or help on the new scheme, then please do not hesitate to contact me on the number below.

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This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.





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