This article has been prepared to help you complete a Coronavirus Fit To Work assessment of an employee who wants to return to work after displaying symptoms of COVID-19, or is in the vulnerable category of workers. We have been very busy over recent weeks supporting our clients in managing their health, safety and welfare queries during the pandemic. And whilst the UK now seems to have passed the peak of infection we are already being asked about health and safety risks of staff recovering from COVID-19 related symptoms, have been self-isolating or have been on the “vulnerable” list as defined by NHS but want to be deemed Fit For Work.
This is very positive to hear, and the following key questions and answers seek to help you in achieving an effective fit to work strategy so your employees who have suffered symptoms from this disease can return safely and without causing concern to colleagues about the risk of becoming infected. We have also produced on a separate blog a complete COVID-19 Toolkit including a free risk assessment template.
What is a Coronavirus Fit to Work Assessment?
The main purpose of a Coronavirus Fit to Work Assessment prior to someone returning to work after a period of absence, including Coronavirus, is to ensure they can complete their tasks effectively and without risk to their own or other people’s health and safety. The objective is not to exclude the person from returning to work, or to penalise them in any way, but to ensure that any reasonable adjustments needed to facilitate a smooth and effective rehabilitation programme can be put in place.
Is a Fit To Work Assessment a Legal requirement?
There is no legal requirement for an employer to complete a fit for work assessment. However, completion of a health assessment prior to anyone returning from significant sickness, including Coronavirus, is good practice and often aids a more effective rehabilitation back to normal work. This is good business for you as you retain skilled and experienced personnel, and is often valued by the employee who feels supported (when this is done well) in returning back to work after a period of inactivity.
When Should a Fit to Work Assessment be Completed?
This should be completed when the employee advises you that they are recovered and able to start their work duties. Depending on the seriousness of their condition (in this case an infectious virus) it is advisable to request a Fit for Work certificate from the individual’s GP to confirm they are no longer infectious. This applies whether they will work from home or back in the workplace.
If they have been self-isolating and not been to the doctor a Fit To Work assessment should still be completed to ensure they are not likely to expose other workers to infection. You should also refer to the Government guidelines for isolation of individuals who have either shown symptoms or are living with a household member who has had symptoms.
Who Can Complete a Fit to Work Assessment?
The competences required to complete a Coronavirus Fit to Work will vary according to the type of condition that the absent employee has reported. Regarding symptoms of Coronavirus, this can be completed by an experienced occupational safety and health professional or occupational health specialist. A medical practitioner will be able to confirm the person’s health status, but not how this relates to their occupation, their proximity to others, the tasks and activities they complete and whether they need to be working with vulnerable persons or food. It can also be completed by an experienced manager with knowledge of the symptoms of Covid-19 provided they have access to specialist guidance and support to validate their assessment.
What are the Outputs / Results of a Fit to Work Assessment?
The objective is to consider the extent to which the Coronavirus symptoms have affected the general health, fitness and welfare of the individual and how this may impact upon the work to which they intend to complete. For example, someone who no longer has the symptoms may still feel weak as any flu-like virus can be debilitating and take several weeks to return to full strength. For someone working in manufacturing/warehouse type environment this will need to be considered so that reasonable adjustments to their hours of work, or work activities, can be agreed.
Someone may have completed their period of isolation but may still be experiencing symptoms such as the persistent cough or sore throat, which are key symptoms of Covid-19. Depending on their proximity to work with others, or proximity to food preparation/manufacture, this is another factor to take into account.
How to Assess a Worker returning to work from Coronavirus
Use of an occupational health Fit to Work Assessment questionnaire is one method to use as the baseline. This guides you through the key questions you should be considering. You then take this information and compare it to the type of tasks and environment in which the employee is due to return to work.
It is important to discuss how the individual is feeling and how they have been affected (physically, mentally and emotionally) and to identify if any reasonable adjustments need to be made to their work or work environment. . You also need to confirm they are no longer displaying symptoms that could increase spread. Liaison with others (especially if returning to the workplace) is essential to provide sufficient social distancing without making the individual feel isolated.
Results of Assessment – return to work or not?
The results of the assessment need to be shared with the individual and the individual’s direct line manager so any adjustments that are needed can be actioned and monitored. If you are uncertain then you should not allow that person to return to work, unless they are in a work area where they can continue to operate in an isolated way (eg working at home) and are physically strong/well enough to do so.