Fit note could mean extra costs for employers

Employers could face additional costs if workplace adjustments are required to allow an early return to work under the new fit note scheme.

The Reforming Medical Statement consultation opened by the Department of Work and Pensions yesterday, set out proposals to replace the ‘sick note culture’ and help more people stay in work rather than drift into long-term sickness – about 172m working days were lost in 2007 due to sickness absence.

Under the new system, expected to roll out across the UK next spring, GPs will replace the hand-written sick note with a computer-generated medical fit note explaining what work a patient is able to do.

However, the consultation points out that some workplace costs could be incurred when accommodating early returns to work. “There is some potential for additional costs if workplace adjustments are required to facilitate an early return, eg. specialist equipment or adjustments to working time agreements,” it says.

But the consultation also points out that some adjustments – such as changes to work patterns – do not have costs attached and overall a “net benefit is expected for employers”.

Meanwhile, recommendations include changing the medical statement to allow doctors to specify if they would need to see an individual again when their current statement expires.

This would help reduce uncertainty for employers about when an individual can be expected to return to work and also enable employees to make their own informed decisions about when to return to work and reduce unnecessary burdens on doctors, the consultation states.

The government is also considering whether to remove the option for doctors to issue a medical statement when an individual is fit for work. This would end the practice, which has no basis in law relating to medical statements, of employers seeking medical evidence of fitness for work before allowing an individual to return, it said.

EEF’s chief medical officer, Sayeed Khan welcomed the proposals. He said: “A fit note recognises that for many conditions a phased return to work is beneficial to both the company and the worker. Recovery from some of the most common causes of long-term ill health, including back pain and minor mental health problems, can often be speeded up by appropriate activity. The fit note provides employers with the information to help an early, but appropriate return to work.”

The 12-week consultation forms part of the government’s response to Dame Carol Black’s report into the health of Britain’s working age population , which was published in March 2008.

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