The Fit for Work Service
Employment law solicitor Hazel Phillips discusses a new service the government has introduced to keep employees fit for work.
Many of our readers will be aware that the government has been proposing for some time to introduce a new service to help employers with occupational health assessments and advice to keep employees in work and/or to get employees back to work faster after a period of ill health absence.
The first stage in the introduction of this new service “went live” in December.
If a staff member has been absent from work for four weeks or more, employees and/or employers can now obtain "free, expert and impartial work-related health advice" via the new Fit for Work website (http://fitforwork.org) and via a telephone helpline 0800 032 6235.
For those just looking for information, the website contains guidance notes covering a range of topics including dealing with stress at work and managing a phased return to work after a period of sickness absence.
Eventually the Fit For Work Service will assist with referrals to occupational health practitioners as well but there is currently no indication as to when that service might become available.
The idea behind the service is to address the growing cost of sickness absence in the UK. It is believed that access to good advice and assistance with the implementation of interventions and work adjustments can help people stay in or return to work sooner and with more successful outcomes. The idea behind the scheme is to assist those employers who have no provisions to manage absence and/or no existing way of accessing occupational health support.
However, it is anticipated that employees will have to be referred to the occupational health part of the service by their own GP. It does not look like it will be possible for the employer to initiate that referral unless the GP has refused or failed to do so.
If an occupational health referral is made via the Fit For Work Service, it is anticipated that the outcome of that referral will be the production of a return to work plan. A case manager will be appointed by the Fit For Work Service to oversee the occupational health assessment process and the subsequent implementation of the agreed plan. However, one possible difficulty is that the return to work plan will only be provided to the employer if the employee consents.
For those who already have occupational health systems in place, and who are able to access occupational health providers who are familiar with their workplace, it may be more beneficial to continue with those services rather than moving to the Fit for Work Service. However, until the system becomes fully operational, which probably won’t happen until April this year at the earliest, it is difficult to know how much benefit will be derived from this initiative by either employers or employees.
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Published: Monday 26th January 2015