Fit for Work

Fit For Work Assessment Service launches a new approach to sickness absence

The Fit for Work Assessment Service was launched in 2015 but was closed down on 31 March 2018.

Over the past 12 months the Government has been developing a new Fit for Work service. The principles of how the service will work are now clarified in the Fit for Work Guidance for Employers. A helpline became operational from 15 December and a gradual roll out of an assessment service is expected between January and May 2015.

What Is The Fit for Work Scheme?

A Government-commissioned report by Dame Carol Black and David Frost in 2011 led to a comprehensive review of sickness absence in the UK, from absence statistics, causes and effects. Several themes were identified including that, after four weeks’ absence, many employees slip into long term absence, despite evidence that early interventions are highly effective in reversing this trend.

In response to these findings, the Government has set up the Fit for Work service to provide free occupational health advice and support for employees, employers and GPs. Its specific objective is to help people with a health condition stay in or return to work. A free telephone and online advice service are already in operation but in due course, an independent health assessment and follow-up after just 4 weeks of sickness absence will be introduced. Assessment will lead to a return-to-work plan and series of recommendations for employers to facilitate the employee’s return to work, normally sent by e-mail. From that point, the employee will not need a fit note unless or until they are discharged from Fit For Work, whether on a return to work or because a return to work has not proved possible after three months.

From 1 January, 2015, a tax exemption will be available for employer expenditure upon recommended medical treatments for employees (subject to maximum relief of £500 per year, per employee).

How The Fit for Work Scheme Will Work

Employees on sick leave will be helped to return to work by providing them with an occupational health assessment when they reach, or are expected to reach, more than 4 weeks’ sickness absence. Employees will normally be referred by their GPs. A resulting return to work plan will be shared with their employer and GP.

A case manager will support each employee through the service’s assessment process to ensure their level of need is correctly identified along with appropriate steps to take to get them back to work.

This is a totally new approach to sickness absence and as an employer you need to be prepared that, from this month, the first you may know that an employee has been referred to Fit For Work is through receipt of a return-to-work plan.

More general health and work advice will be available to GPs, employers and employees via telephone and a website.

My Top Tips

  • Ensure your line managers are equipped to respond to ‘return to work’ recommendations received from Fit For Work. Is training needed? Will you nominate one person as a central point of contact?
  • Understand when there might be consequences if recommendations are not acted upon. Co-operation with Fit For Work is entirely voluntary but there may be legal implications if dismissal or disability prove relevant.
  • Review your sickness absence policies and procedures so they recognise the new Fit For Work service.
  • Consider how Fit For Work might impact on existing occupational health resources your business uses.

I will update this page when details of the phased roll out are announced.

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Fit for Work Assessment Service


Kathryn is a highly experienced HR Manager with a wealth of skills and knowledge acquired across a variety of industries including manufacturing, health and social care and financial services. She has worked in small localised business and larger multi sited organisations and is comfortable liaising with senior managers and union officials as well as answering queries from team members. Connect with Kathryn on:

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