From 6 April this year, UK employers will no longer be presented with the traditional sick note setting out the reason for an employee's absence. Instead, GPs will produce "fit notes" which will focus on the work that an ill person is able to do, rather than what they are unable to do.

In the fit note the GP will indicate whether their patient:

  • is unfit for work or;
  • may be fit for work, taking account of the GP's advice.

If the GP considers that the patient may be fit for work, they are expected to advise whether the patient would benefit from adjustments such as:

  • a phased return to work;
  • amended duties;
  • altered hours; and/or
  • workplace adaptations.

The GP may provide additional comments on the patient's state, including on the functional effects of the patient's condition.

Fit notes will be valid for a maximum of three months. Click here to access the sample form.

The new system aims to reduce the number of employees who go on long-term sick leave by facilitating their return to work at a much earlier stage. However, some employers and employer organisations have their doubts, fearing that the fit note is simply bringing in the concept of the "reasonable adjustment" for non-disabled employees by the back door.

Doubts have been expressed as to how GPs will become trained in the new system whether they will have time to understand the finer points of a patient's work situation and therefore how they will be qualified to express a view on appropriate adjustments without having consulted the employer.

Impact on employers

  • Employers should acquaint themselves with the new fit note form.
  • In capability dismissal cases (even with non-disabled employees) tribunals are likely to look at the employer's response to a fit note to test the soundness of the capability reason and the fairness of the dismissal process, particularly where adjustments have been recommended but not implemented.
  • Absence management procedures should ensure that any adjustments recommended by a GP in a fit note are considered and that the reasons for non-implementation are sustainable and recorded.