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Legal Updates

The new "fit note"

10 May 2010 #Employment


For years employers have had to contend with vague and often illegible sick notes from GPs saying that their employee is suffering from "stress" or "neck pain". The employee was often signed off for 2 or 3 weeks and there was very little an employer could do about it.  All this has changed with the introduction of the Statement of Fitness for Work, or "fit notes", introduced on 6 April 2010.

On this new form, GPs will now have two options:

  • Not fit for work - this means the GP believes the employee has a health condition which prevents them working for a certain period of time.  This is similar to the old sick note.
  • May be fit for work taking account of the following advice - the GP will choose this option where he believes that the employee`s condition does not necessarily stop them returning to work altogether. If this option is chosen the GP can then suggest adjustments which could be made to the job to enable the employee to return, e.g. a phased return to work, amended duties, altered hours or workplace adaptations.  The doctor can go on to add information on the functional effects of the employee`s condition, and can also suggest that an occupational health professional assess the employee.

The advice given on the statement is not binding and it is up to the employer whether he acts on the advice.  The new form should however enable employers and employees to work together to try and help the employee return to work earlier, and hopefully reduce unnecessary sickness absence.

What should employers do?

When you receive a fit note you should discuss the GP`s advice with your employee straight away.  You will also need to consider how it affects the job and the workplace, including the effect on fellow employees.  If a return to work is possible, you should agree when the employee will return and what amendments or adjustments will be made to the role.  You should monitor the situation and set a date for reviewing how the employee is getting on. 

If the adjustments suggested by the GP are not possible, the employee will remain off sick and will be entitled to sick pay in accordance with their contract and/or SSP rules.  For instance the GP may suggest that you remove heavy lifting from the employee`s job but this may not be possible if this is a fundamental part of his role. In this situation, the employer can regard the statement as if the doctor has said the employee was not fit for work.  The employee does not need to return to their doctor for a new statement to confirm this. 

There may be good reasons why you cannot follow the doctor`s advice, e.g. health and safety guidelines or regulations that the doctor may not be aware of.  However, you should always bear in mind that if the employee has a condition covered by the Disability Discrimination Act, you are still under a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

It remains to be seen how fit notes will work in practice and it is hoped that they will cut down on sickness absence and benefit both employees and business. Employmentbuddy.com has a range of policies, guidance notes and letters dealing with long and short term sickness absence and disability discrimination, setting out in detail how fit notes will impact on sickness absence policy.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at employmentunit@clarkslegal.com by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.

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