Food Handlers Fitness to Work Form: Free Template

December 7, 2020
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All employers and employees have a responsibility to ensure health and wellbeing at work. As we all take steps to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, it is even more crucial that all food handlers, many of whom are key workers, take steps to ensure they are healthy and fit to be at work as we head into winter.

For food handlers, it is especially important that they think carefully about whether or not they are fit to be at work. People who work around food while suffering from infections, such as viruses, are at risk of contaminating the food, surfaces the food may contact, and other people they work with. 

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Our COVID-19 Essentials: Working Safely in Hospitality course complies with current workplace-specific guidelines for working safely during COVID-19. It gives guidance and examples of ways in which businesses can operate to keep employees and customers safe.

This article will outline the best practices for food handlers returning to work. We will also provide a free fitness to work questionnaire that food businesses can use. 

What are the Fitness to Work Guidelines for Food Handlers?

The Fitness to Work Guidelines exist to prevent the spread of infection. All food handlers must report certain symptoms to their supervisor or manager right away. The symptoms to be aware of are diarrhea and/or vomiting, as these are the main symptoms of illnesses that can be transmitted through food. 

If you have these symptoms, you are not permitted to work with or around food. You will only be allowed back to work 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped.

In addition, the outbreak of COVID-19 has led to further guidance which aims to halt the spread of this virus. If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, you must not go to work. Instead, you should self-isolate at home and get a test. 

If your test result comes back negative, you can return to work. If your test result comes back positive then you must self-isolate for 10 days from when your symptoms started. If you haven’t had symptoms but still tested positive, you need to isolate for 10 days from the date you had the test. If you live with other people, they must also test negative, or if they are asked to self-isolate, you must too. For further guidance, the NHS website has lots of information on when to self-isolate.

What are the laws against working with food while sick?

No person suffering from, or being a carrier of a disease likely to be transmitted through food or afflicted, for example, with infected wounds, skin infections, sores or diarrhoea is to be permitted to handle food or enter any food-handling area in any capacity if there is any likelihood of direct or indirect contamination. Any person so affected and employed in a food business and who is likely to come into contact with food is to report immediately the illness or symptoms, and if possible their causes, to their manager or supervisor.

As a course of best practice, it is common for food industries to confirm that workers are safe to be back at work. This can be done with a Return to Work Employee Questionnaire, or by proof of a medical clearance certificate. As an employee coming back to work after being ill, you should take extra care with your personal hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.

It is also the responsibility of the food business operator to ensure that other visitors, such as maintenance staff or other contractors, do not risk the safety of food or food handlers. It is therefore good practice for managers to collect information on the health of visitors too. 

Why Should Food Handlers Complete a Return to Work Form?

People who have had time off for being ill, or if they’ve been told to self-isolate, will benefit from a screening process on their return. Completing a Fitness to Work Questionnaire gives the opportunity for the employee and employer to raise and address any concerns they may have around the health of the employee. 

The conversation they will have when completing the form is an opportunity for managers to check that their staff fully understand how to be healthy at work, including the importance of good handwashing. It can also help towards maintaining a safe working environment. This is especially important for food handlers who work in a face-to-face role with members of the public. 

Managers can also use this time to explore if there were any reasons a staff member became ill. For example, are there unsafe practices occurring around raw ingredients, or has there been an external contamination of a product? Completing a form when returning to work will also reduce unexplained absences, as employees will have to provide their reasons for absence in some detail.

In the wake of COVID-19, it is possible that food businesses will have several people off work at the same time, as cases of positive tests increase throughout the country. If this occurs, then a return to work form is essential to ensure that each worker is fully fit and not at risk of passing on the virus to any fellow colleagues or members of the public.

Remember, the law requires managers to exclude anyone from work if they have an infection that can be passed on through food and there is any likelihood of them contaminating food either directly or indirectly. Likewise, the law regarding COVID-19 is to self-isolate if you have symptoms, test positive, or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. You must self-isolate if you are told to by NHS Test and Trace. If you don’t self-isolate you may receive a fine of £1,000. 

You should only return to work when you have been declared fit to do so and completed your isolation time. To that end, it is the employer’s responsibility to declare you are fit to return to work, and equally that they send you back home if necessary. 

Returning to Work Post-COVID-19

In order to be safe, workers should be encouraged to work from home where possible. If they cannot do their job from home, they may be eligible for furlough. Employees should think about their own health and the health of others in their household or support bubble. If they are worried about spreading the virus to other, vulnerable people, then their employer should do what they can to support them. 

If the staff member is declared fit to work following contracting COVID-19, you should still complete a fitness to work questionnaire. Our free downloadable template below will help guide you on what questions to complete. 

Free Fitness to Work Questionnaire Template

Our free Fitness to Work Questionnaire Template will guide you through the return to work interview questions for your employee. It fulfills the requirements of a Return to Work form for both ill-health, following symptoms of vomiting and/or diarrhea, and following cases of COVID-19. The Return to Work form template can be used to help you assess if your food handler is safe to return to work following an exposure to COVID-19. 

You can download and print this template and fill it out for each staff member you interview. It is best to use this template when a member of your team has been off for 2 days or more.

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