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New guidance on use of "Fit" notes

28th March 2013

The Government has issued new guidance on the use of "Fit" notes, with specific guidance targeted at GPs, and employers.

The "Fit" note replaced the old "sick note" provided by GPs to confirm the details of illness for an employee. The concept behind the introduction of the Fit note was to encourage employees back into work by giving details of work that they can do, despite their illness, or work that they can do with some form of adjustment at the workplace. The priority in the "Fit note" is to see what the employee can do rather than what they cannot do.

The new guidance advises GPs on how they can give the most useful information and advice on what the employee can do at work and how they can return to work as quickly as possible.

An important aspect of the new guidance is that it emphasises the point that the fit note is about a person's general health and fitness for work, not just their fitness to carry out their most recent or current job. It emphasises the issue of allowing flexibility to discuss what changes could be made to help the employee do his/her work or some other work.

A point that is frequently an issue for employers is clarified about the date at which an employer can require a fit note from an employee. The guidance confirms that doctors cannot issue fit notes during the first 7 days of sickness absence, for which the employee can self-certify. In the event that the employer wants medical evidence during the first 7 days then it is the responsibility of the employer to arrange for and pay for it. 

The guidance includes an improved questions and answer section addressing common queries, and an explanation of how a fit note indicates whether the employee is expected to be fit for work when it expires, and gives guidance on ideas and suggestions for patients and employers about possible changes to accommodate the advice in the fit note.

The Guidance suggests that employers should discuss the fit note with their employee and see if they can agree any changes to help them come back even during the period covered by the note. The guidance makes clear that the GP is not expected to give detailed suggestions (which would be implausable for the GP who knows little about the business of the employer and the range of tasks that they require in their business). It does indicate that a risk assessment may be required by the employer to accommodate the clinical assessment in the fit note.

In our experience there has been little practical change for small employers since the introduction of the fit note. There are obvious reasons for this, as a small employer will usually have all its required tasks covered by other employees, so it is unlikely that there is a changed role that the employee in question could be provided. In addition, and changes may require training which may take quite some time to complete, and not be proportionate to the circumstances- particularly if the employee in question is only expected to be ill for a short while. So, it remains to be seen what impact, if any, the new guidance will have, but nevertheless it does provide advice and suggestions to employers on how to deal with and understand the fit notes.

If you need any further help on the issues raised in this article do not hesitate to contact Hallett Employment Law Services Ltd.        

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