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Fit note to be introduced on 6 April 2010

Posted on 9th February 2010
New legislation

The new "fit note" will be introduced to replace the GP's sick note. It will be called the Statement of Fitness for Work.

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Simon Quantrill Simon
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Managing Partner Telephone: 01473 688100

A GP will be able to certify the employee is "not fit for work" or "may be fit for work"

A new Statement of Fitness for Work (already tagged the "fit note") will be introduced to replace the GP's sick note from 6 April 2010.

Fit notes are being introduced as part of the Government's published response to its May 2009 consultation on changing the information provided on the current Med 3 and Med 5 medical statements. The key objective is to help employees return to work as soon as possible and assist employers better manage an employee's return to work.

Fit notes explained

A GP or doctor will be able to certify the employee is "not fit for work" or "may be fit for work taking account of the following advice:"

The fit note gives common types of changes that the employer can introduce to assist the employee's return to work. The GP can suggest a phased return to work, or amended duties or altered hours or workplace adaptions. In all cases any suggestion is subject to it being available and with the employer's agreement. The hope is that this additional information will encourage employees and employers to discuss the potential options which might assist the employee to return to work more quickly.

The fit notes will only be issued by doctors. It is anticipated that other health care professionals e.g. practice nurses will also be able to issue fit notes in due course.

The maximum duration of fit notes issued during the first six months of the employee's ill health will be three months.

The information and advice that is provided by the GP on the fit note will not be binding on the employer.

Fit notes will be used in England, Scotland and Wales.

Specific guidance will shortly be published by the Government for employers and employees.

To see an example of the new fit note click here 

No "fit for work statement"

There will be no option for the GP to provide a "fit for work" statement. If an employee is fit for work without qualification no separate certificate is required. It is a common myth that employees are required to be "signed back to work". This is only required in limited cases, such as LGV or HPC drivers. Employers will retain the obligation to carry out a risk assessment when the employee returns to work.

Comment

Overall, we like the changes. The aim of the new fit notes is to help employees back to work as soon as possible and, in turn, enable employers to retain skilled staff and reduce sickness absence. This can't be a bad objective.

For the unwary employer, however, we can see how the new fit notes may help a dismissed employee argue they have been unfairly dismissed. For example, a refusal to allow a phased return to work may be more open to criticism by the employee if he or she can point to the fit note's recommendation, even though its contents are technically non binding on the employer. It will be interesting to see how employees use fit notes to help argue their employment tribunal claims. 

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