The Fit for Work press release makes it clear that employer access to the service is now universally available in England and Wales. So unlike the GP roll-out there is no postcode lottery to consider when seeking to access Fit for Work.
However, the release is less clear on the timing of such referrals. The employer guidance on usage of this service is more helpful here. It states: “Fit for Work provides: free health and work advice through a website and telephone line to help with absence prevention; free referral for an occupational health assessment for employees who have reached, or whose GP’s expects them to reach, four weeks of sickness absence. Employees will normally be referred by their GP. Employers can also make a referral after the employee’s fourth week of absence.”
So employers need to be aware of the four-week break point before they can access and/or refer their employees to the service. Employers also need to be aware that the employee must give explicit consent to the process as well.
It is likely that the four-week line will be a problem for the service. GPs are unlikely to make large numbers of referrals to the service in the early years – and indeed it is likely that most such practitioners will be largely unaware of its existence for some time to come.
So the onus in the short term might be for employers to make their employees aware of the service, so that they in turn can ‘spark’ the referral from the GP at the earliest opportunity (i.e. before the four-week absence triggers employer access to Fit for Work).
So some things for employers to think about here, but promising signs that the service is now more widely available.