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Fit notes

On April 6th 2010, the new ‘Fit Note’ will replace the ‘Sick Note’. In this document, Park City have listed employers’ frequently asked questions, the key differences between the old and new system and importantly, how the new fit notes will impact on your business:

Q. What is changing? What is the difference between a sick note and the new fit note?

A. The sick note, in use until the 6th April 2010 allowed doctors to state whether an employee ‘Should’ or ‘Should Not’ work. In contrast, the fit note will allow doctors to state whether an employee is either ‘Unfit for work’ or ‘May be fit for work taking account of the following advice'. Changes to the form will also allow a doctor to provide more information on your employee’s condition and how they might be able to return to work.

Q. What do the two options available to GPs on the form mean?

A. Unfit for work – This is just like on the old ‘sick note’ where the doctor advises your employee to “refrain from work”. The doctor’s assessment of your employee is that they have a health condition that prevents them from working for the stated period of time.

May be fit for work taking account of the following advice – The doctor’s assessment of your employee is that their condition does not necessarily stop them from returning to work. That is, they could return to work but may not be able to complete all of their normal duties, or they could benefit from amended working hours.

Importantly, if you are not able to provide the support for your employee to return to work, you and your employee should use this statement as if the doctor had advised ‘not fit for work’. Your employee does not need to return to their doctor for a new fit note to confirm this.

To summarise, the main changes are:

  • The removal of the fit for work option;
  • A new option for a doctor to advise if an employee ‘may be fit for work with some support’;
  • More space for a doctor to provide information on how your employee’s condition will affect what they do; and
  • Tick boxes for doctors to use to suggest common ways to help a return to work.

Q. What options are available to Doctors if they think that an employee could return to work?

A. If a doctor decides that an employee could return to work, they may suggest the following advice to you and your employee:

  • i. A phased return to work;
  • ii. Altered hours;
  • iii. Amended duties; and/or
  • iv. Workplace adaptations.

The doctor may also provide written comments on the form offering a more detailed view of the kind of options that your company could implement that may help the employee return to work.

Q. Is anything staying the same?

A. Yes, there are a few important points that remain the same from the 6th April:

  • The form can still be used as evidence for why an employee cannot work due to an illness or injury;
  • The Fit Note is still not required until after the 7th calendar day of sickness;
  • The requirements for the payment of Statutory Sick Pay have not changed; and
  • Your obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act have not changed.

Q. Is the Doctor’s advice on the Fit Note binding to me, the employer?

A. The advice given by the GP is not binding. It is up to you, the employer, to decide how to act on the GPs advice. The Fit Note has been designed to encourage GPs to think about an employee’s ability to work and then provide the employee with information to discuss with you, their employer.

Q. How will the Fit Note help my business?

A. The fit note will allow the employee to continue in work, to aid their recovery from sickness and will provide benefit to you, the employer, as it will reduce sickness absence.

  • The new option of ‘may be fit for work’ means fewer of your employees will be ‘signed off’ work when they could possibly do some or even all of their job with some support;
  • You will be provided with more information on how your employee’s condition will affect what they do or can do. You can then have informed discussions with your employee and try to find solutions to help the sick employee return to work earlier, reducing unnecessary sickness absence.
  • The new fit note is not about trying to get people back to work before they are ready, but about removing the challenges to them returning. You and your employee should work together and be as open and honest as possible. It is not just about managing pay. By working together to find an arrangement that suits both of you, you can provide real benefits to your employee, your business and you, the employer.
  • Ultimately, you will have greater flexibility in how you manage sickness absence in your company.

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Juliet Price is the Managing Director here at Park City and has extensive, specialist knowledge in HR, Health & Safety and staff development. Enter your question below and we'll be back in touch soon with an answer!

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