The Department for Work and Pensions has published three guidance notes, for GPs, employers and employees, on the new Fit for Work service (FFW). The service is due to be completed by May 2015.
In addition to an online and telephone advice service, FFW 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.
Referrals to FFW may be made by GPs and employers and while it is not mandatory, the guidance suggests that referral is the default position. Once an employee is referred, FFW will contact them 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.
Some employers will welcome the Fit for work service as it will mean that employees who are signed off sick for more than 4 weeks can be contacted by FFW and an assessment will be undertaken as well as a return to work plan. It will also be able to highlight whether an employee is disabled or not. Therefore, an employer is more likely to find out sooner whether any reasonable adjustments need to be made.
The FFW will hopefully mean that employees return to work quicker after their sick leave. However, where employees are signed off sick for work related stress, this may not be the case.
It must be noted that this is not a mandatory service and it will have to be seen whether employers take advantage of this service, especially as it is free!