01/04/2010

Employment e-brief – The New “Fit Note”

From 06 April, the sick note will be replaced by a new Government scheme with the introduction of a ‘fit note’.

The benefits of the fit note are envisaged to be:

  • Preventing employees remaining on long-term absences
  • Ensuring that employers do not lose employees with particular expertise and skill
  • Reducing the cost of employee absence

Prevent employee remaining on long-term absences

The new fit note will allow GP’s to indicate whether the employee is ‘unfit for work’ or ‘maybe fit for work’ with the option of listing what an employer could do to assist an employee’s return to work.

The GP could make suggestions which include a ‘phased return to work’, ‘workplace adaption’s’ and/or ‘altered duties/hours’. The GP, however, will not be allowed to make a referral to Occupational Health.

The Government still expects employers to carry out its own risk assessments when an employee returns to work. For this reason, during consultations the third option of ‘fit for work’ was removed from the final fit note.

However, concerns have been raised that a GP may not be able to necessarily advise on whether an employee ‘maybe fit for work’ due to their lack of knowledge of the type of work the employee normally undertakes. This will place them in a restricted position and Occupational Health will need to be involved to implement any recommendations and to determine whether these will actually be feasible.

Ensure that employers do not lose employees with particular expertise and skill

It is hoped that the fit note will enable employers and employees to proactively discuss an employee’s return to work and any changes it needs to make. This should allow employee’s to return to work earlier and employer’s will therefore have less worry of losing experienced employee’s or incur the cost of temporarily replacing them or having the headache of distributing and covering their work amongst other employee’s.

Reducing the cost of employee absence

The Government envisages that the new fit note will over the next 10 years save £240 million for UK businesses; yet the economy incurs costs of £100 billion a year for sickness absences. Although there will be savings, these figures released by the Government appear very meagre in comparison to the current costs.

Implications

There will be instances where an employee disagrees with the GP and with their employer. Therefore there may still be prolonged absences and advice on each individual case and their circumstances may be required to determine what action needs to be taken.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised above please contact a member of Gordons employment team