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Employers need fit practices to match new Fit for Work service

View profile for Gina McCadden
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Employers should review their policies and contracts of employment to match the new Government-funded initiative ‘Fit for Work’.  Gina McCadden, Employment Law Solicitor, here explains how the procedure will work and the changes employers need to implement.

There are two aspects to the Fit for Work service, which has been designed to help employers manage the impact that sickness absence can have on their business:

  • Free health and work advice through its website and telephone advice line to help with absence prevention.
  • Free referral for an occupational health assessment for employees who have reached, or whose GP expects them to reach, four weeks of sickness absence.

The first element of the service, the Fit for Work helpline, has now been launched while the referral services are currently being rolled out across England, Wales and Scotland.

With regard to the second element, employees will normally be referred by their GP, but an employer can make a referral to Fit for Work after four weeks of absence.  An occupational health assessment will be undertaken, usually by telephone, with the aim of producing a Return to Work plan designed to get the employee back to work.

Whether it is a GP or an employer referral, in both circumstances, the employee has to consent to the referral, and also has to agree to the consequent plan being shared with their employer and GP.

This plan can be accepted by employers as sufficient evidence of sickness for Statutory Sick Pay purposes in place of a Fit Note, but the employer is not obliged to accept the plan or implement any of its recommendations.  There would need to be a valid reason to do so, and employers need to consider their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments where disabled employees are involved.   If the employer doesn’t respond or make the proposed adjustments in the plan, it could be used by a tribunal if there were any later claim by an employee.

Employers should consider reviewing sickness absence policies and procedures to reflect the services coming from Fit for Work.  These should reflect the sensible path of employees cooperating with any referral to Fit for Work, whether it’s by their GP or via the employer.   If an employee refuses to take part in the Fit for Work service, employers are limited in the action they can take.  The only option might be to withhold company sick pay – as distinct from SSP – so it could be beneficial to highlight in policies that any refusal to cooperate could result in any sick pay due under the contract of employment being withheld.

For more information on the Fit for Work scheme you can visit the website or for more details on how to implement the changes into your policies and handbooks, you can contact Gina on 02380 717717 or email georginamccadden@warnergoodman.co.uk

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.