Fit for Work Service – A Quick Guide
The government’s new Fit for Work Service is being slowly rolled out prior to its planned full implementation by May 2015 (after the government stop compensating employers’ for statutory sick pay (SSP) in April 2015).
You may recall that when it was announced last year it was originally named the ‘Health and Work’ Service.
Quick guide to the new Fit for Work Service (FFW)
What does the Fit for Work Service offer?
- Free health and work advice through its website and a 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, 4 weeks of sickness absence.
Website and telephone advice
Fit for Work can be contacted through its website, or by telephone, as many times as required. It can give employees, employers and GPs advice about work-related health matters (when an employee’s health condition is affecting them at work) or when an employee is off sick from work. The advice can help identify adjustments that could help an employee remain in, or return to, work.
Referral for an occupational health assessment
Employees will normally be referred to Fit for Work by their GP, but employers can also make a referral when the employee has been (or is expected to be) off work for 4 weeks and when it is considered that there is a reasonable likelihood of the employee returning to work.
Employees will be encouraged to tell their employer when they have been referred to Fit for Work by their GP.
There is no requirement for an employer to contact the employee’s GP before it refers an employee to Fit for Work. (If FFW receives duplicate referrals they will be combined)
There is no limit on the number of eligible employees that can be referred to Fit for Work by an employer, but an employee can only be referred for one assessment in any 12-month period.
Assessment by Fit for Work
Fit for Work will be delivered by registered occupational healthcare professionals. An assessment to identify all possible obstacles preventing the employee’s return (“including health, work and personal factors”) will be carried out over the telephone within 2 working days of the referral.
The employee will be asked to describe their condition, their job role and any factors which are affecting their return to work. The employee and their case manager (the person who carried out the assessment) will then agree a Return to Work Plan to address each obstacle and enable a safe and sustained return to work.
The majority of cases are intended to be telephone assessments, but face-to-face assessments can be done if necessary (within 5 working days of it being deemed necessary).
If the employee consents, their case manager may contact the employer to assist in the creation of the employee’s Return to Work Plan. This may be appropriate where it is necessary to get a better understanding of the workplace context and any limitations than the employee is able to provide; or where the employee’s relationship with the employer is identified as an obstacle to a return.
Return to Work Plan (RTW)
The RTW Plan, with the employee’s consent, will be provided to their GP and employer. (Although the employee can ask for specific parts to be edited).
A RTW 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 a RTW Plan will include a timetable for progressing interventions and for returning to work. It may also include advice for the employee and their GP and may suggest further potential sources of assistance. While all parties are “encouraged to act on the recommendations”, it remains for the employer to decide whether to implement any recommendations. The case manager will contact the employee at arranged points to review progress and if necessary a further assessment can be performed.
It is hoped that the new tax exemption (up to £500 per tax year, per employee) will encourage employers to support recommendations made by a RTW Plan, eg. counselling or physiotherapy. In addition, where the employee meets the criteria for Access to Work their employer can apply for support, such as specialist aids and equipment or support workers.
A RTW Plan should provide sufficient information for the employer to decide on fitness for work and can be accepted in place of a fit note as evidence of sickness absence for SSP purposes.
Discharge from Fit for Work
Employees will automatically be discharged from FFW:
- 2 weeks after they have returned to work (including beginning a phased return); or
- On the date when FFW decide that there is no further assistance they can offer the employee, which will be either when the employee has been with the service for 3 months, or at the point that FFW decides that the employee will be unable to return to work for 3 months or more.
Revised ACAS guidance on ‘right to be accompanied’ at Discipline/Grievance hearing
Following a case last year* ACAS has published a draft revised Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures which provides new guidance relating to a worker’s right to be accompanied.
The revised Code of Practice states that an employer MUST agree to a worker’s request to be accompanied by any chosen companion from one of the statutory categories, namely a fellow worker, trade union representative or official.
In addition, ACAS has inserted guidance to the effect that a worker can change their chosen companion if they wish, and can do so without waiving their right to change their choice again.
There is also guidance in the non-statutory guide which states that employers should use their discretion to allow an employee to bring a companion who is not a colleague, trade union representative or official.
Ultimately, if an employer refuses an employee’s request to bring a companion to a hearing then the compensation the employee can claim is nominal.
If a dismissal results however, a Tribunal is likely to be asked to consider the procedural aspects more carefully with a view to uplifting any damages to the employee by up to 25%.
The revised Code is currently awaiting Parliamentary approval.
*Toal and another v GB Oils Ltd  IRLR 696
Naming and Shaming of Companies who fail to pay National Minimum Wage
The government has published details of 37 employers who have failed to pay their employees the correct national minimum wage, as part of its commitment to “naming and shaming” employers that violate NMW requirements.
Those companies named include, as expected, a large number of small companies in businesses (including Hairdressers and Estate Agents), but also clothing retailer H&M. The failures were uncovered following HMRC investigations.
Collectively, they owe their employees over £177,000 in arrears, and have been charged more than £51,000 in financial penalties.
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Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.