The Fit for Work service is now fully open. Employers and GPs can now refer employees who have been off work for four weeks or more, but what are the practical implications for employers?
Employers in England and Wales are now able to make referrals to the Fit for Work service, following the roll-out last month for GPs.
Here we outline five things that employers need to know about the Fit for Work service, covering issues such as eligibility, consent and the impact on fit notes.
Fit for Work service
1. Only certain individuals are eligible to be referred to the Fit for Work service
The key eligibility requirements for referral to the Fit for Work service are that the individual must:
- be an employee (not a self-employed contractor);
- have been absent from work for at least four weeks;
- have a reasonable likelihood of being able to return to work within three months; and
- have not undergone a Fit for Work assessment in the previous 12 months and have not received a Fit for Work return-to-work plan as a result of the previous referral.
Employees who live outside England, Wales and Scotland are not eligible to be referred to the Fit for Work service.
- What is the Fit for Work service?
- When is the Fit for Work service introduced for employers to make occupational health assessment referrals?
2. No employee consent, no referral to the Fit for Work service
Employees must give their consent before a referral to the Fit for Work service can be made, whether the referral is made by their GP or employer.
The Fit for Work service must also obtain the employee’s consent before:
- the initial assessment takes place;
- it shares each version of a return-to-work-plan with the GP or employer; and
- it contacts the GP or employer or any third party, where this is necessary as part of the assessment.
3. A Fit for Work service assessment results in a return-to-work plan
A referred employee will be assigned a case manager, whose assessment results in a return-to-work plan.
This plan can be shared with the employer with the employee’s prior consent.
The case manager will contact the employee at an arranged point to check if the return-to-work plan is on course and again shortly after the return-to-work date.
This can result in changes to the return-to-work plan.
- Is it mandatory for employers to follow the recommendations in a return-to-work plan provided by the Fit for Work service?
4. A Fit for Work service return-to-work plan has the same status as a fit note
GPs are not obliged to issue a fit note if the Fit for Work service issues a return-to-work plan.
This means that employers should accept a Fit for Work service return-to-work plan as evidence of sickness absence (for example, for statutory sick pay purposes) in the same way as a fit note issued by an employee’s GP.
Recommendations made in a Fit for Work service return-to-work plan are not legally binding.
However, if the employee’s condition amounts to a disability, a refusal without reason on the employer’s part to accommodate a Fit for Work service recommendation could lead to a tribunal claim that the employer failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments.
- If an absent employee has a return-to-work plan provided through the Fit for Work service, does he or she also have to provide the employer with a fit note?
5. Some employer-funded medical treatment that is recommended by the Fit for Work service is tax free
Employer-funded medical treatment that is recommended by the Fit for Work service to help an employee return to work is exempt from income tax and national insurance contributions.
The exemption applies up to the value of £500 per employee per tax year.
This article was originally published on 11 August 2015, but has been updated following the full launch of the Fit for Work service on 8 September 2015.