It sounds like the start of a joke, right?
For many employers getting to grips with what a fit note actually does is far from easy, and on face value they may think that such documents are in fact a joke; whilst some such notes simply say that the employee is unable to work, and are straight forward and easy to understand, others appear to dictate details of what an employee can and cannot do whilst he or she is at work, or the patterns which they may work.
Under the old scheme, the “Sick note” simply meant that an employee could not return to work, but the newer “fit note” appears to bind employers and appears confusing and unclear.
In order to try to clarify the relevance and use of “Fit Notes”, we aim to put some minds at ease and to dispel some myths. In doing so, the DWP’s 2013 guidelines are very useful and user friendly, and a recommended read to any Employer or manager who is unsure of how to deal with a fit note.
First, a “Fit Note” arises from Medical Practitioner Guidelines, they are not statutory, and they are not binding on the Employer. Therefore simply because the GP or medical practitioner says that Joe Bloggs should return on reduced hours does not mean that the Employer must comply with this. Equally, just because the GP does not provide an option does not mean that it is unviable.
Second, the start point in considering a Fit Note is that the employee is unable to attend work as they are not fit to do so. However, they may be able to attend work where certain adjustments can be made. If those adjustments cannot be made then they operate like the old “sick note” and the employee should remain away from the work place. In this circumstance the employee is not being suspended by the Employer on medical grounds, and therefore full pay is only required where there is a contractual provision, otherwise only SSP will be paid.
Third, the existence of a Fit Note does not mean that an employee cannot come back to work before it has expired, or that a new note is needed. An employee can return prior to its expiry. However, caution must be exercised in such circumstances; risk assessments should be undertaken and full consideration given to the matter. Failure to do so could leave the employee exposed to further injury and the workforce and the Employer’s business exposed to unnecessary risks, and the employer exposed to claims by the employee and investigations in to health and safety practices etc.
However, an employer cannot compel the employee to return before the expiry of the Fit Note, unless they can show that they have a genuine and reasonable belief that employee is not unwell. Whilst Fit notes can and should normally be used as evidence that the employee is unwell and unable to attend work, they can be challenged, and as stated above are not binding on the Employer, nevertheless it should be the exception and not the rule that such are challenged.
The Fit Note is therefore a starting point. It is designed to encourage communication between employer and employee and to facilitate a return to work at the earliest stage, where agreement can be reached between the parties. It is not big brother dictating to industry what it should do next or how it conducts its business, nor is it forcing an Employer’s hand into taking employees back early and risk infecting the rest of the workforce. Equally, the medical practitioner should be acting in the best interest of their patient, i.e. the employee, and therefore if there are concerns as to their ability to work then they will simply tick the box that says the employee is not fit to work, and the note works exactly the same as the old sick note.
Managing absence can often be a difficult and daunting task. However, if you have any questions please do contact me and I’d be happy to help.