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Fit Notes

Until April 2010 if an employee had been absent from work for over one week that employee was expected to provide his or her employer with a "Sick note" signed by their medical practitioner (usually their GP) to confirm that they were unfit for work. The Sick note would usually state the nature of the health issue, but frequently in only basic terms.

From April 2010 the Sick note has been replaced by the "Fit Note".
The aim of the Fit Note was to help individuals back to work as soon as possible by enabling the doctor to indicate if that individual could return to work under certain circumstances, such as with reduced hours, or some other form of adjustment to their workplace. The principle use of the Fit Note is still to provide evidence to confirm that the individual has some illness. The Fit Note will be issued to the individual, and should be retained by the individual.The employer should take their own copy from the individual. 
Employers cannot insist that employees provide a Fit Note for the first seven days of sickness absence. The employee is expected to "self-certify" absence in that first week. There is no change here from the previous system, and employers will need the consent and agreement of an employee to undergo any medical examination in the first week of absence, and will normally be expected to pay for any medical report on the employee in the first week of any sickness absence. However, the difference between the old "sick note" and the "Fit Note" is the ability for the medical practitioner to insert details or recommendations in the Fit Note about steps that can be taken that will enable the employee to return to some form of work. Particular recommendations can be given, such as reduced hours of work, a phased return to work, a return to altered duties, or an indication of work that can be done with some form of adjustment at the workplace. Guidance has been written by Government for doctors, individuals, and employers. The guidance for doctors indicates that doctors concentrate on the individual's general capacity and limitations, rather than on the specifics of their particular job.

If the GP assesses that the individual is fit for work then the individual should not be issued with a Fit Note. 
The Government has produced guidance for GPs, employers, and individuals on the use of the Fit Note.  The guidance for employers indicates that employers are expected to discuss the content of the Fit Note with the employee. The guidance for doctors indicates that doctors are not expected to give detailed suggestions (which would not be realistic as they are unlikely to know the details of what the employer can provide and the details of the employer's resources in order to give accurate advice where a cost may be involved in the recommendation). The guidance does suggest that a risk assessment may be required for an employee taking account of the recommendations in the Fit Note. There are other practical considerations for employers who may not be able to afford the time for any recommended training to be given to the individual, especially if the health problem may be expected to last only a couple of weeks at most. The guidance states that the doctors recommendations (if they give any) should not be job-specific, but be generic (but in reality this is the opposite of what most employers want from any such medical recommendations).  

Where the Fit Note indicates that the individual may be fit for work but the employer and individual cannot agree on the appropriate changes to his/her work or workplace, then the employer may treat the Fit Note as if it says "Not fit for work", and the employer should not then ask the individual to provide a new Fit Note.

An employee is free to return to work at any time before the end of the Fit Note. However, employers may want to exercise some caution in such a situation. The guidance for employers suggests at this point that allowing the individual to return in this situation will not be in breach of the employer's liability compulsory insurance, providing a suitable risk assessment has been carried out first- but we believe that employers should check this with their insurers first. 

A Fit Note is not binding on the employer. The employer is therefore entitled to make its own decision on the fitness of the individual to do his or her work. However, caution should be exercised, and employers should obtain their own medical evidence if they do not agree with the Fit Note.

The Fit Note does not alter the legal duties that the employer has in respect of any employee that is disabled.

Our experience is that the introduction of Fit Notes has made no, or very little difference to the approaches taken by employers. The reasons for this are obvious, as most employers want the employee there to carry out his or her normal job, and usually have all other tasks or roles covered by other staff already. In addition the majority of employers do not want an indivual back at work until he or she is ready and able to carry out all of their normal tasks. So in reality the introduction of the Fit Note has made very little difference to employers and employees.    


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