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The Fit for Work service (FFW) (previously known as the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service) has been introduced by the Government to help employers to manage sickness absence.
Initially, FFW is providing advice through a website and telephone line but it will shortly be extended to provide free referrals for an occupational health assessment for employees. FFW is not mandatory for employers, but guidance published by the Department for Work and Pensions encourages employers to update their sickness absence policies to reflect the availability of FFW.
Employees will normally be referred by their GP, but employers can also make a free referral after four weeks of absence.
To be eligible for referral by the employer, the employee must:
The assessment with an occupational health professional will usually take place over the telephone. It is anticipated that employees will usually be contacted within two working days after they are referred to FFW. Where a face-to-face assessment is required, this is expected to take place within five working days of this judgment being made. Employees may claim reasonable travel expenses from the FFW service provider for attending an assessment.
The assessment will involve producing a Return to Work Plan (the Return Plan) with the employee, which will include advice and recommendations to help the employee return to work more quickly. The Return Plan will be shared with both the employer and the employee’s GP, with the employee’s consent. The Return Plan acts as evidence of sickness absence so the employer will not need to request a fit note during the period covered by FFW.
Employers do not have to follow the recommendations in the Return Plan, but failure to do so could cause legal issues in some cases, particularly if the employee is disabled or if the employee is dismissed or unable to return to work.
An employee will be discharged from FFW when they have returned to work (including a phased return) or if a return to work has not been possible after 3 months.
Employers should also note that from 1 January 2015, the Government has introduced a tax exemption of £500 per year, per employee where the employer funds the costs of medical treatments recommended to help their employees return to work.
Annabel Madewell, Trainee in the Employment, Pensions and Immigration Group at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP
6 January 2015
For further information please contact your normal Charles Russell Speechlys Employment contact.