Q: What is the “Fit for Work” service? We have heard it mentioned now but not sure what it is and we have someone who has been off sick for 3 weeks.
A: Fit for Work is a Government-funded service providing Occupational Health assessments on referral from the employee's GP (employee who has been, or is likely to be, off work for four weeks or more) or employer (only after 4 weeks absence – so you will have to wait another week in this case), where an employee is absent from work for at least four weeks. It also provides advice for employers, employees and GPs on matters relating to health and work. The assessment referral service went fully operational from 8 September 2015.
The advice service, which is delivered through a website and telephone helpline, has been in operation technically since January last year.
Where an employee is referred to the service, an adviser from the Fit for Work service will carry out an occupational health assessment, usually over the phone. The employee will be provided with a return-to-work plan, with recommendations for steps that could help him or her to return to work. The return-to-work plan will be shared with the employer, unless the employee does not consent to this.
The employee will have a case manager at the Fit for Work service, who can arrange a further assessment if necessary. The employee will be discharged from the service:
- on returning to work;
- at the point when the service can no longer provide assistance (if this occurs within the first three months of absence); or
- if he or she has not returned to work after three months.
Comment: We have recently advised a number clients who are unfortunately dealing with long term sickness cases and in some cases they have engaged occupational health professionals to determine prognosis etc in order for them to make informed decisions and manage the situation in the best way. However, this free national service is also worth considering now (after at least 4 weeks absence in the case of the employer) as a viable option and perhaps a ‘first step’ to getting an employee back to work asap – which should ideally be the aim from a reasonable employer point of view).
Of course other factors may be causing the long term absence and a holistic approach should be taken to identify and put right any concerns. We can help on this front too, just get in touch.