With little over a month to go until the introduction of the new fit-note system, it seems there is already disquiet within the HR profession over how it will work in practice.
One of the biggest problems with the new system is the fact that GPs will now be put in a position where they have to decide if the employee is ‘unfit for work’ or ‘may be fit for work taking account of the following advice’.
That assessment will be largely reliant on the subjective statements made by the ‘sick’ employee about how they feel and what their job involves.
So the onus will be on employers to decide what activities a patient who is declared ‘may be fit for work’ can or can’t do.
Some HR directors have warned the new system will lead to disputes between employers and staff as to what constitutes suitable work. One HR chief contacted by Employers’ Law’s sister title Personnel Today even went so far to say the changes could create “chaos”.
While that may be overstating the challenge slightly, what the new system does mean is that managers and HR departments are going to have to think more creatively to get employees back to work. Previously, it has been all too easy to maintain the myth that if workers are signed off by the doctor, then they are absent from work until the GP says so.
Yes, the new fit-note system will take time to bed down and, yes, there will inevitably be disputes between employer and employee, but the fit note means both sides will have to work together to find an appropriate solution. And that can only help reduce the huge number of days lost to sickness absence every year.
Mike Berry, editor