New Fit for Work Service

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employee illness
The Government’s funded Fit for Work Service is being rolled out on a regional basis between December 2014 and April 2015. The new scheme is a significant initiative which is aimed at helping companies of all sizes to tackle long term sickness absence.

The Government reported that, on average, as many as 960,000 employees were on sick leave for at least a month between September 2010 and October 2013. The Government hopes that the new Fit for Work Service will reduce sick pay costs for businesses by as much as £165 million a year and enhance economic output by up to £900 million a year.

The new advisory service will offer expert advice to help employers manage sickness absence. The service will offer independent, objective assessment by occupational health professionals, on when and in what circumstances employees can return to work after a period of sickness absence.

When patients reach (or are expected to reach) four weeks of sickness absence, they should automatically be referred by their GP for an independent occupational health assessment.

The service will also provide advice for employers, employees and GPs throughout the sickness absence process, via a website and telephone service.

Whilst all UK companies are eligible to use the service free of charge, it does not link with wider employee benefits such as private medical insurance and income protection. However, the Government has also introduced a tax exemption of up to £500 a year for the payment of medical treatments which are recommended by the Fit for Work Service for each employee. Alternatively, the money can be put towards an employer-arranged occupational health service.

There are certain exclusions to the service, including employees who have:

already been referred to the Fit for Work Service within the previous 12 months already made a partial return to work been absent from work for several months and are now ready to return to work a pattern of regular short term sickness absence

Employers will continue to be accountable for decisions they take about an employee’s fitness for work and their continued employment. It will be essential to provide evidence that all reasonable steps have been taken to facilitate a return to work, as failure to accept or at least engage with a return to work plan provided by the Fit for Work Service Occupational Health provider could potentially lead to claims of unfair dismissal and/or discrimination.

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