The Fit for Work helpline, a health advice service designed to help employees stay in or return to work is now up and running across England, Wales and Scotland.
The aim of the service is to help employers manage the impact that sickness absence can have on their business by providing advice and occupational health assessments for employees who are off for more than four weeks.
Employees will normally be referred to Fit for Work by their GP, however an employer can make a referral after four weeks absence. An occupational health assessment will be undertaken, usually by telephone, with the aim of producing a ‘Return to Work’ plan.
The employee however is required to consent to the referral in the first place, and also has to agree to the plan being shared with their employer and GP.
The plan can be accepted by employers as sufficient evidence of sickness for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) in place of a Fit Note, but the employer is not obliged to accept the plan or implement any of its recommendations. However, there would need to be a good reason to reject any recommendations and employers will need to consider obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments if the employees are disabled.
Sarah Furness, Associate Solicitor at Hay & Kilner commented:
“Where recommendations have been made in a Return to Work plan, and an employer doesn’t respond or make the proposed adjustments, they could be subject to criticism by a tribunal if a claim was brought under the Equality Act. So, even if an employee isn’t thought to be disabled, employers need to give any Fit for Work plans careful consideration.”
Sarah added: “Employers should also think about reviewing sickness absence policies and procedures to put employees under an obligation to co-operate if medical advice is required.
Employers may also want to set out in their contracts that company sick pay will be withheld if employees refuse to cooperate.”
For further information or advice, please contact Sarah Furness
Call: 0191 232 8345