Fit for Work scheme: what SMEs need to know
Now offering occupational health assessment alongside the work-related health advice service which was launched in early 2015, the Government’s Fit for Work programme became fully operational this September.
With GPs first to be briefed, SMEs now need to get to grips with the referral programme’s key principles concerning eligibility, consent and fit notes.
To be eligible, an employee must live in England, Wales or Scotland, be employed (rather than work as a self-employed contractor), and have been absent from work for at least four weeks. There must also be a reasonable likelihood that they will be able to return to work within three months, and they must not have undergone a Fit for Work assessment in the previous 12 months or been given a return-to-work plan following previous referral.
A key condition, whether referral is via a GP or the employer, is that the employee must give their consent to the Fit to Work service before it makes an assessment and shares a return to work plan. Consent is also needed should the service then wish to contact the GP, employer or any third party.
Also central to the system is the role of the Fit to Work case manager, whose assessment informs the return to work plan. They will check if the plan is on course – and if the return to work date has been achieved – adjusting the plan if necessary.
Given that a return to work plan has the same status as a GP fit note, it can serve as evidence of sickness absence – for example, for statutory sick pay purposes. However, although a plan’s recommendations are not legally binding, any employer choosing not to accommodate them could be shown at a tribunal hearing to have failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments, which will be particularly important if the employee is found to be disabled.
Another important rule is that any employer-funded medical treatment recommended by Fit for Work is exempt from income tax and national insurance contributions – up to £500 per employee per tax year.
To discuss anything further please do not hesitate to contact our Employment solicitors on 01622 698000.