As of 6 April 2010, the “sick note” will become the “fit note”. This forms part of the Government’s health, work and wellbeing strategy. The aim is that it will reduce sickness absence levels and support a return to work. The Government expects it to benefit the British economy by an estimated £240 million. The Department of Work and Pensions issued its guidance to employers, employees and GPs on 19 February. The employer’s guide is called “Statement of Fitness for Work” which can be found here.

The new look “fit note” will require a GP to complete the below

The guidance provides that the GP will tick the relevant boxes and then state on the fit note the period of time their advice is for. It states that if an employer cannot make the adaptations or adjustments, it should explain the reasons for it to the employee and then treat the fit note as if the GP had advised that the employee was not fit for work.

Most employers would probably welcome the reform of the sick note certificate as the current ‘sick note’ form often does not give employers sufficient information. Certainly, it may assist employers if an employee has been absent for a long period or if s/he may be disabled within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (the “Act”). However, it potentially extends the duty to make reasonable adjustments to those who are not ‘disabled’ with the meaning of the Act, it is not clear what happens if there is a failure by the employer to explore a ticked suggestion or if a failure to implement a ticked suggestion must be reasonable, it does not obviate the need for an employer to carry out a risk assessment on the individual’s return to work, obtain specialist medical advice or engage occupational health and it could even delay a full return to work whilst the employer takes the individual through each of the suggested options. A copy of the regulations can be found here.

Also, from 1 April 2010, the Government’s occupational health adviceline pilots will be extended to cover every employer with up to 249 employees in Britain. Further information can be found here.

Action required & key considerations

Employers will need to review their sickness absence policies and procedures prior to 6 April. Where a conditional fit note is received, the employer will need to consider any suggestions made by the GP and how and if these can be accommodated. Care will also need to be taken around why any such suggestions are not appropriate and the employer should retain evidence to substantiate its reasoning. Finally, consideration will need to be given to the inter-play with the provision of any insured benefits such as permanent health insurance and employer’s liability insurance.