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Fit for Work scheme launched for employers to refer

Employers in England and Wales can now refer employees to the voluntary Fit for Work service, giving millions of workers access to free occupational health advice and support.

The scheme allows employers to refer employees who have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more to a free and confidential Fit for Work consultation with occupational health professionals.

GPs have been able to refer employed patients for a voluntary occupational health assessment since the Spring; and now the service has been opened to allow employers to make referrals too.

The service is already available to employers in Scotland.

The need for Fit for Work

Each year around 865,000 employee absences last for four weeks or more, and three-quarters of employers feel that with extra support employees on long-term sickness leave would be able to get back to work sooner.

Small and medium-sized businesses are likely to benefit most from the scheme, studies suggest. SMEs comprise nearly half of the private sector workforce; but these companies generally have limited occupational health support.

Some 70 per cent of employees previously had no access to such support, according to YouGov research.

Return to Work plans

Referred employees get a professional consultation within two working days of a referral, which will investigate any issues - health, work or personal - that might be keeping them from the workplace.

A Return to Work plan is agreed between the OH service and the employee, which will direct them towards the services they need to get back to work, and may suggest actions for the employer too. The Return to Work Plan can be shared with employers  if the employee agrees, to aid the return. If employees enter into the Fit for Work scheme they will receive a Return to Work Plan and will not be required to have a fit note. However, if they do not choose to use the Fit for Work Scheme, share their Return to Work plan with their employer, or their employer does not accept the Return to Work plan, a Fit Note will still be required.

Concerns have been voiced that the scheme might encourage presenteeism, with employees going back to work before they are properly ready to do so.

But the scheme's operators say that after a return to work, professionals from the service conduct phone interviews to check that employees are coping at work. If necessary, they can direct employees towards further support.

Acas publications and services

Acas has information on Fitness for Work, explaining the fit note in detail, and plenty of advice on guidance on Managing absence, including Managing staff absence: A step-by-step guide.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and talk to you about the fit note, identify causes of absenteeism, and develop a new attendance management system. See Health, wellbeing and managing attendance for more details.

Practical training is available on related areas, including Absence management, Handling difficult conversations, Health, work and wellbeing and essential Skills for supervisors.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.
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