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The Fit for Work service

We have previously blogged about the government’s plan to offer free occupational health advice, aimed at reducing long-term sickness absence. Originally called the Health and Work service it has now launched as the Fit for Work service. The advice line opened on 15 December 2014, while the assessment service is expected to be phased in between January and May this year.

There are two elements to the service: an advice line and an assessment by an occupational health adviser.

Advice line
• Employers, employees and GPs will be able to access free advice via a telephone line and website. Information will be available on, for example, how to apply recommendations from fit notes.
• You can access the advice line as often as you need.

Assessment
• Once the employee has reached 4 weeks of sickness absence they can be referred to an occupational health professional for a free assessment.
• GPs or employers may make the referral. It is envisaged that referrals will usually be from the GP. Referral forms will be available online.
• The first assessment will usually be by telephone and take place within 2 working days of the referral.
• A return to work plan will be developed and, with the employee’s consent, emailed to the employer.
• Return to work plans will provide evidence of fitness for work for the purposes of receiving statutory sick pay.
• Assessments are not compulsory: employees must agree to being referred.
• Only one referral can be made every 12 months.
• It is not mandatory to implement the recommendations in a return to work plan. However, as part of an absence management process, it will be good practice to consider the plan alongside all other relevant factors and medical advice. A failure to do so could potentially be taken into account by a tribunal.
• There is a new tax exemption of up to £500 a year per employee on medical treatments recommended by either the Fit for Work service or an employer occupational health service.

You will be able to access Fit for Work advice and make a referral for an assessment by using these contact details:
Scotland 0800 019 2211 http://www.fitforworkscotland.scot/
England and Wales 0800 032 6235 http://fitforwork.org/

The Fit for Work service is intended to complement rather than replace existing occupational health services and is therefore likely to be of most benefit to employers who do not currently have an occupational health provider. However, all employers need to be aware of the scheme and the fact that if they receive a return to work plan, they should at least consider it as part of the sickness absence management process.

Please get in touch for more information. Guidance on the new service is also available here.

Julie Keir sign-off

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