Fit-note legislation not well known among employers

More than two-thirds of employers have little or no knowledge of new fit-note legislation, just weeks before it becomes law, research revealed today.

The fit note, which comes into force on 6 April, will ask doctors to tick one of two options regarding a person’s health – either that they are ‘unfit for work’, or ‘may be fit for work taking account of the following advice’.

In the survey of 500 employers, by insurance company Aviva UK Health, 68% had little or no knowledge of the change and how it would work for them, while just 5% said they thought fit notes would reduce absence rates. One in 10 thought they would be hard to administer.

Hugh Laing, chief medical officer at Aviva UK Health and a practising GP, said: “Any move on behalf of the government to get people back into the workplace is commendable. However, we are concerned by the apparent lack of awareness of fit notes among employers and their workforce.

“The move from sicknotes represents a big change for businesses and will take time to embed. What’s more, we will only reap the long-term benefits of this move if the right support and training is in place.”

Laing suggested that the government is “missing an important trick” by ignoring the role occupational health services could play in the success of fit notes.

“Occupational health practitioners are the missing piece of the jigsaw but could perform a potentially crucial support role in bridging the knowledge gap between employers, HR, managers, GPs and workers,” he said. “Without this engagement, the introduction of fit notes may cause more problems than it solves.”

The survey follows a warning from HR chiefs that the fit note will “inevitably” lead to disputes between employers and staff if GPs do not provide enough detail about the types of activities workers can carry out after sickness absence.

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