Revival of fittest

fit noteFrom 6 April this year, the sick note is going to be replaced by the ‘fit’ note. This government move aims to help more staff to return to work after being off sick. Official figures say that ill health could cost the country £240 million over the next 10 years.

The Department for Work and Pensions has guidance to help employers understand the new system. It tells you the main changes to the form that doctors fill in. Instead of the ‘fit for work option’ there is a new one for a doctor to advise if an employee may be fit for work with some support; more space for them to provide information on how an employee’s condition will affect what they do; and tick boxes to suggest common ways to help a person return to work.

Small businesses may see this as a ‘glass half full’ situation. An employee who would otherwise be signed off, returns to work within their physical capacities and with support, thus cutting the sick leave cost to the company. And you get to retain staff skills.

But it could well be a half empty glass. Personnel Today magazine says the fit note will ‘inevitably lead to disputes between employers and staff about what constitutes suitable work following a period of sickness absence’.

Other commentators say the new system means that GPs will need also to be occupational health advisors.

So what’s the sensible way forward? The guidance says that if you don’t understand the advice on the fit note, you should discuss it with the employee, and you could also contact the GP in person, (but that would cost you). And the advice is not binding, so you can decide how you act on it.

One practical thing to do would be to sit down and talk to any employee you think may be affected. And check your employment contracts in case they need updating.

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