From 6 April 2010 sick notes issued by GPs were replaced by fit notes. The Government hoped this would help encourage employees to return to work and reduce the culture of absenteeism.
The Department for Work and Pensions has now updated its guidance on fit notes, including its guidance for employers and line managers.
Some interesting points to note for employers emerge from the guidance including:
- The fit note is only advice and employers are not bound by it, it is for employers to determine whether or not to accept the advice set out in a fit note.
- Employers are within their rights to gather other evidence about the employee's fitness for work from other healthcare professionals and may choose to give this precedence over the advice in the fit note.
- Access to Work grants can help employees with a disability or health condition. This includes paying towards equipment or support.
- The fit note won't tell employers what changes to make, but will give advice about how the employee's health affects what they can do at work.
- If employers can't make any changes to take account of the advice in the fit note, they don't have to.
- If the fit note says the employee may be fit for some work with adjustments, but these cannot be agreed with the individual, employers should treat the fit note as if it says that the employee is not fit for work. The employee does not need a new fit note from their doctor to confirm this.
- An employee can come back to work at any time, even if this is before their fit note expires. They do not need to go back to their doctor first.
- People do not need to be signed back to work and there is no option on the fit note to do so. If the employee's doctor assesses that they are fit for work, they will not be issued with a fit note.
- The fit note belongs to the employee and they should keep the original. Employers may decide to take a copy for their records.
The DWP guidance states that,
"Your employee can go back to work at any time (including before the end of the fit note) without going back to see their doctor - even if their doctor has indicated that they need to assess them again. This will not breach your Employers Liability Compulsory Insurance, providing a suitable risk assessment has taken place if required."
Carrying out a risk assessment is likely to be a vital first step in any return process. However, employers should also speak to their insurers if they have any concerns about an employee with health issues.
Where an employee who has been absent for a long time suddenly decides they are fit to return to work, but the employer is sceptical (perhaps because the desire to return coincides with the end of entitlement to sick pay) they may wish to ask their own occupational health adviser to assess the individual before allowing them to return to work. Ideally, contracts of employment should contain the power to enable the employer to do so.