The Department for Work and Pensions has published three guidance notes for GPs, employers, and employees on the new Fit for Work service (FFW). This incentive will be steadily introduced, and will be in full-effect by May 2015.
The new service, delivered by registered and experienced occupational health professionals, will provide free occupational health assessments and return to work plans to assist employees who have been on sickness absence for four weeks or more. This also includes scenarios where the employee’s GP expects them to reach sickness absence for over, and including, four weeks. In addition, the FFW service will provide free health and work advice through its website, along with telephone support to assist with absence prevention.
Employees will normally be referred to FFW by their GP, but employers can also make a referral. It is suggested that a referral to FFW is the “default” position. However, it is not mandatory since it is dependent both on the employee’s consent and on the referring GP, or employer, considering that there is a reasonable likelihood of the employee making at least a phased return to work.
Once an employee is referred, an FFW member becomes the case manager, and will contact the employee within two working days, and continue to manage the case thereafter. The assessment would involve the employee describing their situation, along with their job role and any factors that may affect their return to work. The aim of this meeting is to identify potential obstacles at the outset, and work towards ways that these could be significantly reduced, if not completely. The FFW strives to achieve its goal through establishing a tailored Return to Work Plan, which will encourage all parties to act upon, particularly now since the government’s tax exemption makes it easier for employers to support their staff.
Simon Horsfield Says: The new Fit for Work regime will be particularly useful for small to medium size employers, who may not currently have access to occupational health support and advice. For larger employers, it may be preferable to keep current arrangements in place. In either case, absence policies should be updated to reference the new regime and the fact that the employee is expected to attend any OH referrals, or that the employer’s private arrangements take precedence, as the case may be.