Fit for work - what you need to know

By Fiona Burns
22 Feb 2016

The Government estimates that there are currently 140 million working days lost per year in Great Britain due to sickness absence*. Many organisations already invest in occupational health services to facilitate their absent employees in returning to work and to reduce unnecessary time off for sickness absence.

However, a new free scheme has been rolled out across England and Wales to assist all employers in this area, Melanie Parsons, Regional Employment Consultant, looks at how it works.

What is it?

The “Fit for Work” scheme aims to work with employers to try to help them cut back on problematic employee sick leave, increasing the productivity and workload of the entire company. It is predicted that use of the new scheme may cut the cost of sick pay by between £80m and £165m per year. If an employee has been or is likely to be off work for a period of more than four weeks, he or she can be referred for health advice and an Occupational Health Assessment under the scheme.

Employees must have given consent before a referral to the fit for work service is made through their GP or their employer. A referred employee will be assigned a Case Manager, who will assess the employee and devise a return to work plan that can be shared with their employer (with the employee’s prior consent). The plan will provide the employer with advice and information relating to the employees return to work.

For example, this could include a timeline for their return and anything that the employer may be able to do to help them to speed up their recovery, including recommending certain treatments. A fit for work service plan has the same status as a fit note and should be accepted for SSP purposes.

Who is eligible?

  • Employees only (not self-employed)
  • Individuals who have been absent from work or are likely to be absent for at least four weeks
  • The employee should have a likelihood of being able to return to work within three months and have not used the service in the previous 12 months. 

What are the benefits to employers?

  • It is not compulsory for employers to use the scheme when managing long-term absence; however there are some benefits for doing it.
  • The service is free
  • Tax breaks for employers who pay for treatments recommended by Fit for Work are available up to £500 per employee per tax year
  • Recommendations contained in the return to work plan are not legally binding for employers
  • Lowering the cost of absences

Using the scheme

The Fit for Work scheme is available to all businesses and employers regardless of size in England and Wales. Fit for Work Scotland is accepting employer referral by phone, but its online referral system is yet to be launched.

Practical suggestions

The guidance recommends that employers consider whether to update their sickness absence policies and procedures to reflect the availability of the Fit for Work service. For Employers who already have effective absence policy in place, there is no need to take advantage of the entire scheme. It is possible to use a mixture of your own occupational health provider as well as the Fit for Work scheme; or use a two-phase approach, using the scheme first then if absence does not improve, using your own provider.

Croner clients - if you have a question on the new Fit to Work scheme, or sickness absence policies and procedures you can call the Business Support Helpline or Employment Advisory service for help and guidance. Not a Croner client? Give us a call on 0800 032 4088 to find out how we can help.


*Source: SAR’s analysis of Labour Force Survey, ONS; average of four quarters to March 2011; Age 16–64; GB (not seasonally adjusted). In its latest absence and workplace health survey 2011, the Confederation for British Industry (CBI) estimates nearly 190 million days were lost to absence in 2010, though this reflects their generally higher reported absence levels (due to the survey bias towards larger firms).

About the Author

Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns has practical experience in Health & Safety and Risk Management having worked for major insurer prior to joining Croner.

She has gained extensive helpline experience offering competent advice and timely support to large number of clients, in various industries and at all levels.  Completed the NEBOSH General Certificate, also passed NEBOSH Environmental Diploma Unit A, (IOSH Managing Environmental responsibilities). NEBOSH Fire and Risk Management Certificate, FPA Advance Fire Training, NCRQ Diploma – Distinction currently completing IPD and volunteering for Community project in Atherstone also as a Dementia support worker with CWPT.


Fiona Burns

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