An important update on fit notes from employees

Tuesday June 21, 2022

Just when you feel you’ve got it all figured out, there is a change coming that needs your attention.

Don’t worry though! We’re here to keep you in the know about important HR and employment law topics that concern your SME business and people management processes. The most pressing of these now being an impending change to fit notes.

What is a fit note?

A fit note, which used to be known as a sick note, doctor’s note, or statement of fitness for work, is a certificate from a doctor. It provides an employee with evidence of their advice concerning the employee’s health and fitness for work.

What’s changing with fit notes?

Currently, an employee must obtain a fit note from their doctor if they are absent from work through ill health for more than seven consecutive days. This allows the company to pay either company sick pay, or statutory sick pay if the employee earns above the threshold.

However, to ease the pressure on GPs, who are still catching up due to COVID interruptions, this is going to change from July 1st this year.

The change will allow nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and physiotherapists to issue and certify fit notes as well as doctors.

Another change, implemented this April, further aims to streamline the process by allowing the use of digital fit notes.

What does this mean for employers?

As an employer, you can start to expect fit notes from the expanded list of professionals when it comes to an employee’s fitness for work. You should treat these the same as you would a fit note from a GP.

More care professionals being given the powers to certify fit notes doesn’t necessarily mean you will start to receive more fit notes.

Fit notes can cause confusion, for example when suggesting an employee can return to light duties. This is all well and good, but if your company does not have any light duties, it is not particularly helpful. More useful would be a phased return to work, but that does not mean the employee returns on full pay, which again can cause problems. We always suggest discussing any recommendations with the employee to see if a sensible solution can be worked out.

Do I have to accept a fit note from an employee?

Sometimes you may suspect that an employee is not sick at all. What can you do in this case?

You are not in the position to question the medical professional’s opinion, but by carrying out return to work interviews and keeping excellent records you can take further steps.

One is to refer to an occupational health professional for their advice. Some employers have even employed private investigators to check the validity of an employee’s illness, but these cases tend to be when an employee is claiming an injury at work and trying to get money for it. If in doubt, do ring us.

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As HR professionals we know the value that occupational health can provide to an SME. Ask us about our partner who provides quality, cost-effective and timely services if you’d like to know more.

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