Following earlier implementation in Scotland and other trial areas, the government has now extended the “Fit for Work” programme across the whole of England and Wales. GPs and employers will now be able to refer their employees, who have been absent for four weeks or more, for a Fit for Work occupational assessment. However, the employee must agree, and their rights under the “Access to Medical Records” regulations remain in place.
The overall aims of the service are to get people back in work and save employers money through reducing sick pay. It is also proven that keeping people in work is better for them long term, and of course saves the government money in ill health benefits.
How does the Fit For Work program work?
Primarily GPs will refer their patient after four weeks where there is a realistic possibility of them returning to work, although employers may do so too. The individual, having given their consent, will have a telephone consultation with an occupational health adviser within two working days. During this in-depth conversation the issues preventing the person returning to work will be explored and will take into consideration all the factors involved: personal as well as professional. Sometimes, after the initial call, the professional case manager will decide that a face-to-face meeting would be more beneficial, and they will arrange this within five working days.
From either type of consultation a return to work plan is drawn up and may recommend a phased return, a return but to lighter duties or that additional medical treatment be undertaken.
How does the plan affect you?
Fortunately there is no mandatory obligation on the employer to accept the plan. This is because inevitably the health professional cannot fully understand how your business works, or the physical constraints and challenges involved. If the employee has agreed, the occupational health adviser may ring the employer to discuss and explore options in more detail.
If you receive a Return to Work plan this can be used to provide evidence for sickness pay, replacing the need for a further Fit Note.
A tax exemption for medical treatment
From January this year the government introduced a tax exemption which applies to the provision of recommended medical treatment, or the payment or reimbursement of the costs of medical treatment, recommended by a health care professional. The Return to Work plan is covered by this.
The exemption applies to medical treatment up to a maximum cost of £500 in the tax year per employee. Any costs in excess of this amount are subject to tax in the normal way for medical treatment.
The exemption does not apply if the medical treatment is provided under salary sacrifice arrangements.
Help from The HR Dept
But meanwhile if you need your Sickness Absence Policy updated to reflect this new service, or you would like help and guidance managing a long-term sickness issue, please call us.