The Government has confirmed that the current sick note scheme will be replaced with 'fit notes' which will be introduced on the 6th April 2010. 'Fit notes' allow GPs to suggest changes to the employee's job to assist them to return to work.
Employers should ensure that those within their organisation responsible for the administration of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) are aware of the new fit note scheme. The Government has produced a sample of what the new fit notes will look like. To access this please click here.
Employers can use the fit note as an opportunity to discuss with the employee whether any of the GPs suggested changes to their job or work place would enable them to return to work and consider whether or not they can accommodate such changes.
The Social Security (Medical Evidence) and the Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 will come into force on 6th April 2010 and reform the current sick note system of medical statements provided by GPs.
The Government has decided not to pilot the new medical statements (commonly referred to as fit notes) because they say this would lead to inconsistency in the administration of benefits and SSP. However the Government does intend to commission research to evaluate the new system which will be published in 2012/13.
Under the new fit note system:-
- The current options of 'fit' or 'unfit' for work will be replaced with two options:-
- 'unfit for work' and
- 'you may be fit for work taking account of the following advice'
- There will be no 'fit for work' option on the fit note. The Government's view is that this was unnecessary as the new fit notes give GPs an opportunity to indicate whether or not they need to assess their patient's fitness for work again.
- The fit note lists a number of common changes which can be made to an employee's position or work place to assist them return to work such as a phased return or altered hours. GPs will be able to select the option(s) most appropriate to the particular employee. However the list is not exhaustive and where a GP considers another option is more appropriate for their patient they will be able to state this in the comments box.
- The maximum duration that a fit note can be issued for during the first 6 months of an employee's health condition, will be limited to 3 months (reduced from the 6 months currently allowed under the sick note scheme). The Government's view is that signing employees off work for long periods at the early stages of their illness, does not help support the majority of individuals to return to work at the earliest opportunity. If an employer is unable to facilitate a change to the employer's position or work place so that the employee is unable to return to work, it will not be necessary to issue a revised fit note. The existing fit note will be evidence that an employee has a health condition which prevents them from carrying out their current role.
- The Government has promised that specific guidance on the new fit note system aimed at employers will be available in the near future.