Referrals to Fit for Work

GPs throughout England and Wales can now refer employed patients who have been, or are likely to be, off sick from work for four weeks or more for a voluntary occupational health assessment. And, from 8 September 2015, employers can refer their employees directly without the need to go via employees’ GPs.

What is a Fit for Work referral?

The Fit for Work referral service provides free access to an occupational health professional for employed people who have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more. The occupational health professional will identify barriers preventing people from returning to work and, where a return to work is deemed appropriate, the assessment will culminate in a Return to Work Plan.

Who is eligible for referral?

GPs can refer any employed patient who has been, or is likely to be, off work for four weeks or more to Fit for Work. Employers can refer any employee who has already been off work for four weeks or more.

Can I make a referral?

GP referrals are now available across England and Wales (refer a patient) and employers can now refer eligible employees for an occupational health assessment (refer an employee). Employees cannot self-refer.

How to prepare for making Fit for Work referrals (employers)

  • Clarify what existing support you already have in place for employees on long-term sick leave and update your HR policy to accept the Fit for Work Return to Work Plans. (For help with updating your absence and HR policies, see the  CIPD guidelines.)
  • Invite eligible employees in for a discussion about Fit for Work, and refer employees (with their consent) using the employer referral form.
  • Spread the word about Fit for Work within your organisation or on your website using some of our online resources (see the employer toolkit for a collection of useful materials available for your use).

What will happen once a referral has been made?

An occupational health professional will make contact with the referred person by phone within two days of the referral being made in order to arrange a convenient time for the assessment to be performed. In the vast majority of cases, the occupational health assessment will be done by telephone, and will take up to 45 minutes.

In more complex cases, a face-to-face assessment may be deemed necessary. These would take place within five days of the referral date. Fit for Work would pay reasonable travel costs towards attending a face-to-face meeting, which will be no more than 90-minutes travel time by public transport from the person’s home.

What is a Return to Work Plan?

A Return to Work Plan outlines the ways in which employees who have been off work can return to work before they are 100% recovered, often with modified duties or working hours.

It will include advice, recommendations for interventions and signposting to other help for the employee, their employer and their GP (if necessary). The plan will also include a timetable for progressing interventions and for returning to work (if appropriate). A Return to Work Plan provides evidence of sickness absence in exactly the same way as a fit note issued by a GP. The plan may indicate that a person is ‘not fit for work’ or ‘may be fit for work’ subject to their employer being able to carry out the recommendations. Alternatively, your plan may say that a person is ‘fit for work’.

The Return to Work Plan will be sent to the employee via email, through a secure web link, or by post. With the person’s consent, the Return to Work Plan will be shared with their GP and employer so they can consider how to carry out the recommendations.

The Return to Work Plan can be used as evidence of sickness absence in exactly the same way as a fit note, so people will not need to return to their GP for additional fit notes.

Where can I find out more information?

Take a look at the Fit for Work guidance to find out more about Fit for Work and how it can benefit employees, organisations and GPs.