Is Fit For Work fit for you?

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By Miranda Mulligan, Solicitor specialising in Employment law

Each year, sickness absence costs employers billions in lost days and associated work costs. In an effort to tackle our so-called “sick note culture”, the government has introduced the Fit For Work (‘FFW’) scheme. FFW is a voluntary, government-funded service which aims to help employees return to work as quickly as possible.

What does FFW do?

FFW allows employers to make a free referral to an occupational health specialist when an employee has been on sick leave for four or more weeks. The scheme is expected to benefit SMEs, which are likely to have limited access to expensive occupational health services.FFW also offers free work-related health advice via its website and telephone advice helpline.

How does FFW work?

An employee can be referred to FFW by their GP or employer. An employee must consent to a referral but once referred, the employee will be contacted by an occupational health specialist for a telephone assessment within two working days. The assessment will seek to identify any health, work or personal factors preventing the employee from returning to work. This will then result in a Return to Work Plan which will provide recommendations to help the employee return to work by a certain date. If the employee consents, the plan can be shared with their employer.

Employers will not be bound by any recommendations made. However, to encourage co-operation, tax exemptions have been introduced on payments towards medical treatments of up to £500 per employee, per tax year.

FFW will remain in contact with the employee and where he/she has not returned to work at the expected time, a further assessment will be arranged. Where a return to work has not been possible after three months, the employee will be discharged from the scheme.

What should employers do now?

FFW is now available across England and Wales. Whilst FFW is voluntary, it is proving to be a useful resource, particularly for smaller businesses. It is good practice now for employers to consider this as an option in cases of employee sickness and to update their sickness absence policies to explain the referral process.

It is worth remembering that the scheme will not assist in cases where employees do not consent to it and, in these cases, a proactive approach by the employer and a robust absence management process will still be important.

Please note the contents of this blog are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.