The Government’s new ‘fit for work’ referral service is due to launch in 2015. The referral system, which at present does not have an implementation date, will provide:
- A state-funded (free) assessment by occupational health professionals for employees who are off sick for four weeks or more; and
- Case management advice (also free) through a website and telephone advice line to minimise absence in the workplace.
Recently, the Government launched a website for the Fit for Work service, where employees and employers can obtain “free, expert and impartial work-related health advice” via a website and telephone advice line.
Whilst it is not yet known when the referral service for employees who have been absent for four weeks or more will be available, the website states that a phased roll-out will take place “over a period of months”. The service is however open for general advice from a team of occupational health professionals.
A link to the website can be found here: http://fitforwork.org/introducing-fit-for-work/
Earlier this month, the Department for Work and Pensions published three guidance notes for GPs, employers and employees, on the new Fit for Work service, which will be introduced on a phased basis. The Guidance notes can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/fit-for-work-guidance
recruitment agents acting on behalf of employers may in due course, be minded to review their sickness/absence policies, and ensure that there is reference to the need for employees to be potentially referred to an occupational health professional through the referral service or otherwise. Reference to occupational health referral is recommended in any event.
Recruitment agents acting on behalf of employers can refer employees to the service themselves (after obtaining employee consent), and it is also expected that GP’s will also refer employees to the service. Sometimes this may take place even before someone has been absent from work for four weeks, so long as the GP believes that the employee is likely be absent for four weeks, and/or that a referral may benefit them.
It is intended that once an employee has been referred, the service will contact them to undertake an assessment, usually by telephone, with a view to creating a return to work ‘plan’. It is envisaged that this ‘plan’ will be shared with the employee’s GP, before being implemented by the employer. The success of the ‘plan’ will then be reviewed by a case worker appointed to the employee.
The service can only be used in relation to employees that have “a reasonable likelihood of making at least a phased return to work”. In cases of significant long-term absence therefore, where the service may not be applicable, recruitment agents acting on behalf of employers should consider to make occupational health referrals in the usual manner, taking appropriate legal advice along the way.
As an additional incentive and as part of introducing the scheme, the Government has also introduced a tax exemption up to £500 per employee per tax year in relation to medical treatments which are recommended to assist employees return to work.
It remains to be seen how successful or otherwise the service will be, and what the take-up from recruitment agents acting on behalf of employers will be. Much may ultimately be determined by the extent to which employees consent to the plan produced being shared, which is not guaranteed.