Fit-note guidance for employers is published

Guidance to help employers use the new fit note and help more staff return to work following periods of ill-health has been published today.

The guidance is intended to help employers understand the information that will be provided on the notes and how this will affect their return-to-work policies.

The new fit note will be implemented on 6 April and will ask GPs to state whether individuals are ‘unfit for work’, or ‘may be fit for work taking account of the following advice’.

Doctors will then be told to list whether the employee would benefit from a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties or workplace adaptations, but the note does not require them to go into detail regarding which activities an employee can carry out at work.

But HR chiefs warned the wording of the notes would “inevitably” lead to disputes between employers and staff about what constitutes suitable work following a period of sickness absence.

The new guidance states that if an employer does not understand the advice on the fit note, they should discuss it with the employee in question, and if the matter is not resolved, they could then contact the GP in person – but this could come at a cost to the employer.

Employer support for the new fit note

Caroline Waters, director of people and policy at BT Group, said: “There are clear benefits to both employers and employees of adopting a flexible approach where individuals are recovering from a lengthy sickness absence. Often, only a relatively minor adjustment of hours or workplace is needed to enable valuable talent to remain in the business and avoid recruitment and induction costs.”

The guidance says: “If you are still unsure [after discussion with the employee], you may want to consider advice from an occupational health professional. You can also write to the doctor for more information; however, bear in mind that you may have to pay for this service, and a busy GP may not be able to respond to your enquiry immediately.”

The guidance added that GP advice on the fit note was not binding and it was up to the employer how they would act on the advice.

David Freud, shadow welfare reform minister, previously told Personnel Today there should be a dialogue between doctors and HR to ensure the “reasonable parameters” of the work activities were fully understood.

Dame Carol Black, national director for health and work, said: “Work plays a significant role in determining a person’s health. The fit note is a hugely important development, which means that GPs will be encouraged to think about their patient’s ability to work and provide more helpful information to patients to discuss with their employer. This is why the fit note is a win-win for both employees and employers.”

The government hopes the new note will cut the cost of sick leave for employers and benefit the UK economy by an estimated £240m over the next 10 years.

In 2007, 172 million working days were lost to ill heath, according to Black’s Working for a Healthier Tomorrow report.

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