‘Fit Note’ Not ‘Sick Note’
We last reported on the planned changes to ‘Sick Notes’ in July 2009 and have been keeping a check on developments ever since. Only now can we comment with some certainty on the changes that will occur.
From 6th April 2010 the format of medical statements provided to patients when they are ill or injured will change. Employers commonly use these statements as proof of the reason for an employee’s absence from work, and as qualification for Statutory Sick Pay and/or Company Sick Pay in circumstances when an employee has been absent for more than 7 calendar days. The rules relating to self certification that covers the first 7 calendar days are not affected by these changes.
The new statement provides two options. The employee is described as ‘not fit to work’ or ‘may be fit for work taking account the following advice’, either for a specified period or until a specified date. The note then states whether the patient is required to see the GP again at the end of this period or not.
To complete the form it is expected that the doctor and patient will have discussed the effect of their medical condition on their ability to do their job and thus allow for the possibility of an earlier return to work under certain conditions. There are four options the GP can recommend the employee takes up with their employer. They are that the employee may benefit from:
The doctor will also be able to add comments if they think that more explanation is needed or whether another option would be more beneficial.
Click here to see a sample of the new form.
Not Binding on the Employer
The guidance given to GP’s regarding the new form suggests that their ‘advice’ is for the patient and is not binding on their employer. It is intended to provide help to both the patient and their employer and to encourage them to explore ways to facilitate a return to work. In cases where it is not possible for the employer to accommodate the advice, they may treat the statement as if they had been advised that the employee is not fit for work.
The statement will specify whether the employee is required or not to return to the doctor and if not they simply return on the due date or at the end of the specified period.
There will no longer be a facility for the doctor’s statement to state that the employee ‘need not refrain from work’.
Instead it gives the doctor the option to say the patient ‘will/will not’ need to revisit them. In other words the doctor is predicting that they will be fit to return at the end of the specified period or specified date. It will be interesting to see how many doctors have the confidence to make such a prediction for anything more than a few days absence.
This means that employers who doubt that the employee is well enough or fit enough to carry out their normal duties will not be able to send them back to the doctor to get a note saying they are fit. This raises clear health and safety implications.
Where an employee is not required to visit the doctor again and returns to work, but is in the employers view not fit to return then the employer has a problem. If the employer wants evidence that the employee is fully fit to return they will need to utilise an occupational health service or enter into a private arrangement with the GP – i.e. pay for it in both cases.
Employers that currently operate independent medical assessments and have established return to work procedures may find it easier to adjust to these changes and integrate them into their current procedures. Those without such processes may need to change their approach.
If employers fail to carry out any recommended changes highlighted in the ‘fit note’ and the employee meets the qualifications required by the disability discrimination legislation then they might find themselves on the receiving end of a disability discrimination claim.
As ever with new legislation it is wise for employers to review their existing practices and make any necessary amendments - and take advice.
Where we have drawn up your sickness procedures and you have an on-going service agreement with us we will check through your specific forms and contact you separately if there is anything to change.