The Department for Work and Pensions has this month published guidance for employers about the new Fit for Work service.

The service provides:

  • Free health and work advice through a website and telephone advice line to help with absence prevention; and
  • Free referral for an occupational health assessment for employees who have reached, or whose GP expects them to reach, four weeks of sickness absence.

The service aims to help employees to return to work sooner and help reduce sickness absence costs. It is hoped that the scheme will particularly benefit Small to Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) which may have limited access to occupational health advice and services.  Employees will normally be referred by their GP (which can be before an employee has been absent for four weeks), but employers can also make a referral after four weeks of absence with the employee's consent.

Employers may be contacted by the new service about employees who have been referred by their GP and to provide input into a Return to Work Plan (these will in some cases replace fit notes). Fit for Work expect to contact employers when it is necessary:

  • to gain a better understanding of the specific workplace context and any limitations than can be provided by the employee themselves; 
  • when recommendations in a Return to Work Plan have not been actioned - to ensure that any recommendations have been fully understood. This may include taking a facilitation role between the employee and the employer; or 
  • the relationship with the employer has been identified as one of the obstacles to a return to work – to ensure that the employer and employee both understand (i) the impacts of the condition on the ability to return to work; and (ii) the potential constraints of the workplace situation

The guidance is available here.

The websites for advice are Fit For Work Scotland and Fit For Work.

Employers should consider updating their sickness absence policies to reflect the introduction of the new service.