The Government has published its response to the consultation on fit notes which are due to come into force in April this year.

These notes are set to replace the traditional sick note and encourage employees to get back to work. Essentially if a doctor is of the view that an employee could return to work, they can recommend adjustments which an employer could make to facilitate this. I have heard some initial views expressed that this is unlikely to make any real difference but I am not so sure.

Under the new system:

  • The doctor can list adjustments which would facilitate a return to work. If the doctor feels another course of action would be better for the employee, the doctor can detail this in the comments section.
  • There will not be a “fit for work” option. It was felt that a doctor would not know enough about the role the employee undertakes to determine whether he is fit for work or not.
  • The “may be fit for some work” option is to be replaced with “you may be fit for work taking account of the following advice”. It will then be for the employer and the employee to consult on whether or not it is practical for the employee to return to work. (i.e. can the employer facilitate any adjustments?)
  • In the first 6 months of an illness the medical certificates issued by the doctor will only endure for 3 month spells.
  • If the employer is not able to implement the suggested adjustments, there will be no need for a revised medical certificate. The existing certificate is sufficient evidence that the employee cannot carry out his current role.

The Government intends that detailed guidance will be available shortly for medical practitioners, employers and individuals. The Government will also launch a communication campaign to raise awareness of the changes.

My own view is that this is likely to sharply focus the issue of reasonable adjustments which require to be taken where the employee has a disability and may lead to more litigation where a GP has expressly suggested an adjustment that can be made but where the employer has refused or has been unable to make the change.