Latest insights from our experts

Posted 21 August 2015
by Stephen Jennings

An end to occupational health as you know it?

Any employer seeking to take action against a sick employee is generally well advised to refer to occupational health first. While often necessary, this can be expensive, time-consuming and ultimately unproductive if your OH practitioner is unduly cautious.

Now you have an alternative – a new free support service, Fit for Work, which is designed to help long-term sick employees return to work more quickly. This is now available in every area of England and Wales.

The idea is that GPs can refer employees (with their consent) for an in-depth assessment by an occupational health practitioner who will produce a personalised Return to Work Plan. Employers will also be able to refer employees directly to the service from the Autumn.

Employees can only be referred if they have been (or are likely to be) off sick for 4 weeks or more and if they have a reasonable likelihood of making at least a phased return to work.

The new service will be fast – a telephone consultation will take place within two days of a referral – but will it be helpful? The focus is very much on getting employees back to work and employers may have to justify refusing any recommendations from a practitioner who doesn’t know how their business works. Employers are also unlikely to get answers to other important questions, such as whether the employee is likely to be disabled, and with only a telephone consultation as standard the quality may be variable.

So, helpful or not? Perhaps – but while we are finding out, you may want to stick to traditional referrals for now.

For further advice, contact our specialist employment team on 01392 207020 or e-mail

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About the author

Stephen Jennings

Partner and Solicitor

Partner in the litigation department specialising in employment law, he is the relationship manager for many of the firm's employment clients