Fit for Work Occupational Health Assessment Referral Service
What is the Fit For Work Occupational Health Assessment Referral Service?
The Fit for Work occupational health assessment referral service is a new Government service involving a referral for a free voluntary occupational health assessment for employees who are off work through illness or injury for at least four weeks.
A phased roll-out of referrals to the Fit for Work assessment service is taking place over the course of 2015. GPs in all areas of the UK can already refer employees to the Fit for Work assessment service. Employers in Scotland can also already make referrals. The Government has said that employers in England and Wales will be able to make referrals from autumn 2015.
The Fit for Work service also provides advice on work-related health matters for employers, employees and GPs through their website and telephone helpline which can be found here.
How does it work?
Once an employee has reached, or is expected to reach, four weeks’ sickness absence, he or she can be referred by his or her GP or the employer for a free Fit for Work assessment by an occupational health professional who, if the worker agrees, will look at the issues preventing a return to work. The service is not intended to replace any existing Company Occupational Health provision but to be an additional, and complementary, resource.
Anyone can be referred to the service if they:
• live in England, Wales or Scotland;
• are in paid employment;
• are absent from work on account of sickness or injury for at least four weeks; and
• are likely to return to work.
Once a referral is made, employees will be contacted within two working days of referral to the service. An initial assessment will normally take place over the telephone and, if required, a face-to-face assessment will take place within five working days.
The referral will usually lead to a Return to Work Plan, that will provide advice and recommendations to get the employee back into work. This Return to Work Plan can be accepted as evidence of sickness absence in the same way as a GP-issued fit note.
The key issues about referrals are:
• Any referral is voluntary and the employee must give consent at every stage;
• Individual employees cannot self-refer;
• Self-employed workers cannot be referred;
• Employees can only be referred once in a 12-month period; and
• Employees will be discharged when they have returned to work or at the point that it is felt the service can no longer provide further assistance. This latter point will be reached when the employee has been with the Fit for Work Assessment Service for three months or when the Service decides that he or she will be unable to return to work for three months or more.
What do employers need to do?
First and foremost, employers need to ensure that they and their managers understand what the Fit for Work Assessment Service is and how it works. Any recommendations made by the service should be given serious consideration. Although employers do not have to accept a recommendation from the Fit for Work assessment service, they should be mindful that it may be considered to be a ‘reasonable adjustment’ for disability discrimination purposes.
Secondly, employers need to build in an alert system so that they are reminded to consider a referral to the Fit for Work service after four weeks’ sickness absence. Finally, Company sickness policies should be re-worked to take account of the new service. Documents in the Simply-Docs ‘Sickness and Absence’ folder have been updated accordingly.
In January 2015, the Government introduced a tax exemption of up to £500 (per tax year, per employee) on medical treatments recommended to help employees return to work, including any treatments recommended as part of Fit for Work or any employer occupational health service.
In order to qualify for this tax exemption, the employee must have been absent from work for at least 28 consecutive days due to ill health or injury or have been assessed by a healthcare professional as not fit for work (or may not be fit for work) for at least 28 consecutive days.