Fit for Work - What's it All About?
Fit for Work is a line of support for GPs, employers and employees to help those who are off work sick. It’s a government funded initiative that’s designed to support people in work who have health problems and to help with sickness absence. Being in work actually benefits your health and research shows that the longer somebody is absent from work, the more difficult it can be for them to return. Being out of work doesn’t just damage your wallet, it’s detrimental to your social well-being and health.
Fit for Work comprises two elements:
- Free impartial expert work-related health advice either via the Fit for Work website or telephone.
- Referral to an occupational health professional for employees who have been off sick or who are likely to be off sick for four weeks or longer.
The occupational health professional will establish any obstacles that prevent the employee from returning to work and design a Return to Work Plan that is tailored to the employee’s individual needs. While referrals are usually made by GPs, employers can also refer an employee if they have not yet been referred after an absence of four weeks.
Fit for Work is designed to work alongside, rather than replace, existing occupational health services and employees need to consent to be referred to Fit for Work and the Return to Work Plan will be shared with both their GP and their employer.
While the Fit Note system replaced the old MED3 sick note four years ago, according to the results of the 2014 Sickness Absence survey published by EEF (the industry body for engineering and manufacturing employers) it hasn’t delivered the expected improvement. Employers still report that the quality of advice given by GPs is poor – this is despite the fact that half of the employers surveyed claim to have made the necessary adjustments to enable staff to return to work.
The survey also demonstrates that, despite the fact that overall absence is at a record low (2.1% which is equivalent to 4.9 days per employee annually), there’s been an increase in the number of long term ill health cases. More than a third of those questioned said that long term sickness absence has increased over the past two years. The biggest increase in long term absences involves stress and mental health disorders – and these affect employees in all sectors, including the construction industry.
Starting in autumn of this year, Fit for Work will provide employers with access to work-related health advice and the ability to refer their employees direct to the Fit for Work service. If you (as an employer) have employees who are (or are likely to be) off work for four weeks or more, you can access step by step Return to Work Plans that are tailored to each employee’s needs. The free voluntary occupational health assessment will consider the health, work and personal factors that prevent an employee’s return to work and recommend a plan of action that will help to overcome these obstacles and assist them in their return to the workplace.