Workplace health scheme “Fit for Work” launched article banner image

It is recognised that the longer someone is off sick, the more difficult it is for them to get back to work and that being out of work is itself damaging to people’s health, as well as to their social and financial wellbeing. An independent review of sickness absence carried out in 2011 by Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE found that there was a lack of access to occupational health support and suggested that this was a key problem preventing employees from getting back to work.

With this in mind, the government has introduced a new scheme offering free occupational health support and guidance for working people who have health problems and to help businesses cope with sickness absence.

What does it mean for your business?

The service aims to help business owners understand sickness absence and to manage it more effectively. Individuals are also entitled to access the services, whether they work for an organisation or for themselves. There is a dedicated advice phone line and the facility to “chat” online to a specialist adviser. This element of the service is already up and running and will be open every week day from 8.30am until 6pm.

Also in the process of being rolled-out is a referral system. When an employee is off-sick, or expected to be off-sick for four weeks or more, the employee’s GP (in the first instance) will be able to refer them to an occupational health adviser, through the service. During the research period, it was found that GPs believed they could have referred around 54% of their suitable patients to the service. They also indicated that they were unlikely to refer people with a clear recovery path and those who were likely to return to work “under their own steam”.

Employers will also be able to make the referral to Fit for Work, if, after four weeks of absence, the employee’s GP has not already referred them. The employer will need the employee’s consent to do this. The government believes that it will enable a practical, step-by-step return to work plan to be produced, tailored to the employee’s needs and which will help them to come back to work.

It is not yet known when the referral service will be rolled out across the country. The website is active, though feels somewhat like a work-in-progress, and the advice line is running, but the only message from government so far is that the referral process will be “rolled out over a number of months” in 2015. We’ll of course let you know when it happens, but you can find more info on:

Verity Slater is a partner in Stephens Scown’s employment team, based in Truro. She works in partnership with businesses to improve their HR practices and advise on employment issues. Verity can be contacted on 01872 265100 or