Fit for Work: guidance for employers published

On Friday, the Department for Work and Pensions published its guidance for employers on using the new Fit for Work (FfW) service to help ill employees return to the workplace. It also includes more details on the tax exemption for medical interventions that commenced on 1 January 2015.

The full document can be viewed on the government website. The publishing of this document does not, however, indicate that the FfW service is yet fully on stream. The actual timetable for the roll-out of this service is still unclear, and indeed the FfW website also gives no specific details on this.

Yet the document does give employers an insight into the practicalities of using the service, and also allows organisations to plan how their absence management policies could be altered to reflect inclusion of this option.

It also provides the reader with clarification on some useful extra information that was not entirely evident before. In no particular order:

1. It is now evident that the primary referral route for FfW will be the employee’s GP (rather than the employer). Employers can still refer, of course, subject to the criteria set out in the document.

2. Where a return-to-work plan is issued by the FfW service, the plan can be used as evidence of sickness absence in the same way as a fit note issued by a GP and the employer will not need to ask the employee for a fit note as well.

3. The tricky issue of employee consent is also covered. The document states: ‘Employees must provide consent at all stages of the assessment process. Consent must be explicit, informed and freely given.’ This is one for the employment lawyers to consider, but suggests that the consent issue will need some detailed thought if employers are to use this service for all employees as a standard sickness absence default option.

4. Employees will be contacted within two working days of a referral to the service, and face-to-face assessments (when required) will take place within five working days of the judgment being made. Where employees are required to travel to such an assessment, a travel allowance may be claimed from the service provider.

5. Interestingly, the document suggests that the rules for referral from an employer may be more rigorous than a referral from a GP. For the employer to make a referral, the employee must have been absent for four weeks due to illness, whereas the GP can refer an employee who is likely to be absent for four weeks.

6. The document also confirms that employees will be discharged from FfW when:

  • they have returned to work (including a phased return to work)
  • at the point that FfW will no longer provide further assistance
  • if a return to work has not been possible after three months

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7. The tax exemption for medical interventions is limited to £500 per employee, per tax year. So this could potentially be used more than once if treatment straddles a tax year end/start perhaps?

So plenty of useful information to consider here. We will keep you posted on the progress and roll-out of this service.