Our thoughts on the world of employment law - and beyond.

Mental Health at Work (Part 2) - the Health and Work Service

This article is the second in a series of posts aimed at helping employers deal with mental health issues that arise in the workplace. 

Our previous post referred to the new Health and Work Service (“HWS”), a government initiative aimed at ensuring a faster and more effective return to work for employees on long-term sickness absence.

The government recently announced that the contract for HWS has been awarded to Health Management Limited which is owned by Maximus, the UK’s largest independent occupational health provider. In Scotland, HWS will be provided by the Scottish government. This service is due to be launched at the end of this year with a phased roll-out to be completed by May 2015. 


Assessment Process

  • Once an employee has reached, or is expected to reach, four weeks of sickness absence the individual should be referred to HWS for an assessment.
  • A referral should ordinarily be made by the individual’s GP but if no referral has been made by the four-week period then the employer may, in those circumstances, make the referral.
  • Each assessment will be carried out by an occupational health professional who will identify issues which prevent the employee from returning to work.
  • A case manager will help the employee through the assessment process.
  • It appears that the first assessment will be carried out within two working days of the referral.  Further assessments may then take place if necessary.
  • Following the assessment process a return to work plan will be sent to the employee.
  • The plan will contain specific advice and recommendations about how to ensure a fast and effective return to work.



  • Employers, employees and GPs will be able to access health and work advice via the phone and online.   


Practical Points

On the face of it this service requires very little involvement from the employer. However, employers will need to understand it in order to be able to take appropriate action once a return to work report is produced. I have provided below a few practical points to bear in mind at this stage.

  • Once an employer is in receipt of a return to work plan a note from a GP will no longer be necessary to evidence an employee’s fitness for work.  
  • The return to work plan will not be provided to the employer without the employee’s consent.
  • A tax exemption of up to £500 a year per employee will be introduced on payments for medical treatments recommended by HWS or employer-arranged occupational health service. Without such tax exemption, the payment would be treated as a taxable benefit in kind, liable to income tax and employer National Insurance contributions.  
  • The new service is aimed to complement and enhance, rather than replace, any existing occupational health provision.



Very little is known about how HWS will work in practice and the success of this service remains to be seen. Questions have certainly been raised about how effective the return to work reports will be, particularly when it appears that assessments may in some cases be carried out exclusively by phone or internet.

On the plus side, according to the government summary (which you can access here) HWS will not only look at work or health related factors but will consider a much wider range of issues. This will be particularly helpful in mental health cases which are often caused or exacerbated by personal matters unrelated to an employee’s life at work.  

We will endeavour to provide further details of this service as and when they become available.

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