Managing absence and the fit for work service

The “Fit for Work” Service has started operation, and it could be very beneficial for both employers and employees. Kathy Daniels of Kathy Daniels Consulting Ltd investigates.

Fit for Work Service

There are two parts to the service. The first is a web-based and telephone advisory service. This has now been running since December 2014. Employers, employees or doctors can contact the service asking for advice about issues relating to an employee’s absence from work.

The other part of the service is the assessment of individuals who are absent and the creation of a return to work plan for the individual. This part of the service is currently being rolled out across the country with the aim of GP referrals being live across the country by Autumn 2015. It is planned that employers will also be able to make referrals from Autumn 2015.

The assessment service starts with an employee being referred to the Fit for Work Service. The referral can be by the employer or by the employee’s GP. To qualify for referral:

  • The employee must have been absent from work for four weeks or, if the referral is by the employee’s GP, the medical opinion is that the employee will be absent for four weeks
  • The employee must live in England, Wales or Scotland
  • The employee must be absent. An employee who is working part-time due to ill health, or is doing a different job to usual because of ill health, cannot be referred. The service is specifically for those who are unable to work at all because of illness
  • The employee must agree to the referral. The service cannot be forced on an employee
  • The employee must not have been referred to the service and have received a return to work plan within the last 12 months.

The purpose of referring the employee is to get expert help in putting together a return to work plan. This plan is created by an Occupational Health Specialist once an assessment of the employee has been carried out.

The assessment will usually take place over the telephone. The service commits to an Occupational Health Specialist contacting the employee by telephone within two working days of the referral. The specialist will talk to the employee about the illness or injury that the employee has and will also discuss the work duties that the employee typically does. If necessary, the specialist will also contact the employer to discuss the nature of the work and any possible amendments that could be made to the work.

Although the assessment will usually take place over the telephone, the specialist might then determine that a face-to-face assessment is required. If this is needed it will be arranged within five working days of the decision to have the assessment.

The output of the assessment, whether it is over the telephone or face to face, is a return to work plan. A copy of the plan is sent to the employer and the employee and it is then expected that the employer and employee will meet to discuss the plan. There is no obligation to follow the plan, although it is clearly hoped that it will be used.

The service will then make contact with the employee at agreed intervals to ensure that all is going according to plan. In particular, contact will be made when the employee returns to work to ensure that all has gone well.

The involvement of the service ends once the employee has returned to work, when the service considers it can be of no more help or when the employee has been absent from work for three months or more. The service is free and can be accessed at

Managing absence

Managing sickness absence is never easy because it is difficult to know how long an employee is likely to be absent from work and what restrictions they will have on their ability to work once they return.

Keep in touch with your absent employees – It is always good practice to keep in touch with any of your employees who are absent for a period of time, because that will help them to feel part of the organisation and might encourage them to think about returning to work more promptly. There is also the possibility that not keeping in touch with your employees could be disability discrimination if they meet the definition of disability and losing touch disadvantages them.

Ensure your policies do not disadvantage those absent due to a disability – if you link any benefit to attendance then ensure that any absence relating to a disability (or to pregnancy/maternity) does not penalise the employee. For example, if you use attendance as one of your redundancy selection criteria you should exclude absence relating to disability, pregnancy and maternity.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)Finally, a reminder that the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rate went up on 6 April 2015 and is now £88.45 per week. This is payable for up to 28 weeks if an employee is paid an average of at least the Lower Earnings Threshold, which is now £112 per week. Average earnings are calculated on the basis of the eight weeks of earnings prior to the sickness beginning. The SSP is paid from the fourth day of absence, with the first three days being days that the employee would usually work.

If you require any support in managing staff absence, please contact us

27 Harvine Walk, Norton, Stourbridge, West Midlands, DY8 3BQ

Tel: 01384 823835


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