Previously known as the Health and Work Service, the Fit for Work Service provides free occupational health assessments and work advice to employees, employers and GPs, in order to better manage sickness absence and help individuals to stay in or return to work. However, as a non-compulsory service, an employee can refuse to be assessed or to follow any course of action or treatment suggested.

The Fit for Work Service is delivered by healthcare professionals who have either:

  • An occupational health qualification
  • Occupational health experience
  • Demonstrable experience and skills applicable to working in an occupational health setting

Because the Fit for Work Service can’t be used in all circumstances, it doesn’t replace the role of occupational health practitioners who will still play a significant role in managing long term sickness absence.

Using the service

Where used, the service will identify the full range of issues preventing a return to work, and provide advice in line with best practice.

Once an employee has reached, or is expected to reach, four weeks of sickness absence, they can be referred by their GP for an assessment by an occupational health professional. However, a few things to note:

  • The GP requires the employee’s consent before a referral can be made
  • There may be circumstances when a referral is inappropriate
  • Referral is the default option available to GPs, and the exceptions for non-referral are limited
  • Employers can refer an employee for assessment if the GP has not done this by the four-week point

Referrals cannot be made for:

  • Employees who live outside England, Scotland and Wales
  • Employees who are not absent from work
  • Self-employed workers
  • Employees who have already been referred
  • Employees who refuse to give their consent

Following assessment, the employee will be provided with a Return to Work Plan within an agreed time limit. The Plan will address each obstacle identified during the assessment, in order to enable a safe and sustained return to work, and can be used as evidence for payment of statutory sick pay in the same way as a ‘fit note’.

Employers are under no obligation to implement the Return to Work Plan recommendations, but it should instigate communication between them and the employee regarding changes that could be made to get the employee back to work.

The Service is not intended for absences of less than 4 weeks, but occupational health reports can assist employers with absences of any length where there’s a need – so Peninsula clients shouldn’t wait this long to consider the input of occupational health experts if required.

Our consultants can provide assistance on the options available in relation to absence periods of less than 4 weeks.