The Fit for Work Service (“FFW”) is currently being introduced on a phased basis. The introduction is set to be completed by May 2015.
What is the Fit for Work Service?
The Fit for Work Service 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 to return to work. The FFW also provides an online and telephone advice service.
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How can a referral to the Fit for Work Service be made?
Referrals can be made by employers and GPs. Once a referral is made the FFW will contact the employee to undertake an assessment usually by telephone with a view to creating a return to work plan. A plan will cover a specified period of time and will state whether an employee is fit for work or whether they may be fit for work, subject to their employer being able to follow certain recommendations. Where appropriate it will include a timetable to achieve a return to work.
The FFW provides:
- Online telephone advice;
- Referral for an occupational health assessment.
Online and telephone advice
FFW can be contacted by telephone or online through its website. There is not a limit as to how many times the FFW can be contacted. The service provides GPs, employers and employees advice about health matters that are work related. The advice can help identify adjustments that could help an employee remain or return to work.
Referral for an occupational health assessment
Employees will normally be referred to FFW by their GP, but employers can also make a referral. Whilst a referral is usually the default position 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.
The guides suggest that GPs should exercise their professional judgement about whether a referral is appropriate. However the guide goes onto suggest that if they are in doubt about a referral they should either contact the FFW advice line or go ahead and make the referral.
An employee can only be referred for one assessment in any 12 month period however there is no limit as to the number of employees an employer can refer.
FFW is staffed by registered occupational healthcare professionals with the relevant qualifications and experience.
Once an employee is referred, FFW anticipates contacting the employee to make an assessment by telephone within two working days. The occupational health professional who undertakes the assessment becomes the employee’s case manager for the whole FFW process.
The assessment will involve the employee describing their condition, their job role and any factors which are affecting their return to work. The purpose of the assessment is to identify all possible obstacles preventing the employee’s return and for the employee and their case manager to agree a Return to Work Plan.
Return to Work Plan
The outcome of an assessment will be reflected in a Return to Work Plan (Plan) that, with the employee’s consent, will be provided to their GP and employer usually by email or sometimes by post.
A plan will cover a specified period of time and will state whether an employee is fit for work or whether they may be fit for work, subject to their employer being able to follow certain recommendations.