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Sick Note Faces Sack - Traditional Absence Forms To Be

Tuesday, 09 March 2010

The sick note is facing a prolonged period of absence from the workplace following a decision to replace it with a new 'fit' note in a bid to hasten the return of employees who are on long-term sick leave.


From April 6 a new 'fitness to work' form will be introduced by the Government outlining an employee's ability to work rather than their inability to do so due to absence or illness.    


It is hoped that the new 'fit' note will cut the cost of sick leave for employers and benefit the British economy to the tune of £240 million over the next ten years. The new scheme encourages further discussions between doctor and patient, and then between employer and employee, on the potential adjustments which could be made to facilitate a return to work.


Donna Reynolds, a solicitor with Dunfermline based firm CCW Business Lawyers, said: "The Government has recognised that it is not the GP who is best placed to decide whether changes can be made to the working environment. If the GP considers that the employee may be fit for work, they are expected to advise on the various adjustments which could be made to assist a return to work.  These adjustments comprise of: a phased return to work, amended duties, altered hours and/or workplace adaptations."


The new notes will provide GPs with two options to categorise their patients' suitability to work. Patients will be defined as either 'not fit for work' or 'may be fit for work'. A third option, 'fit for work' was rejected by the Government on the basis that it is the employer's responsibility to carry out a risk assessment upon the employee returning to work.


Donna Reynolds added: "The new system is surrounded by optimism and there are high hopes for it 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, many employers are concerned that doctors completing their medical statements do not have the knowledge or expertise about an individual's job role and the risk involved to allow them to certify that an employee may be fit for work."


There are several potential issues which may arise from the change to the current system:


  • How does an employer respond to advice given by a GP if the suggested changes are too costly, difficult to implement or simply don't fit the business' needs?


  • In instances where the employee has a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, has an employer complied with its duty to make reasonable adjustments when it has implemented a doctor's fit note advice?


  • And if the employee does not suffer from a disability, does he have grounds to resign and claim constructive dismissal if his employer does not implement a doctor's fit note advice?


  • Where an employer wishes to make a capability dismissal, how much weight will tribunals give to the employer's response to the fit note to test the soundness of the capability reason and the fairness of the dismissal process?



Donna Reynolds said: "These are all questions that will be answered in the fullness of time in the Tribunal claims that will surely follow the introductions of these new fit notes. What we do know is GP's advice will be evidence that an employee has a condition that prevents them from carrying out their role and an employer's response will be to request far more medical reports from GPs or specialists than they currently do. Inevitably this may prove to be a costly exercise in times of time and money."


Employers are recommended to familiarise themselves with the new scheme and pay due attention to the repercussions of failing to implement adjustments required by an employee's GP. Employers must also be prepared to carry out thorough risks assessments for all employees returning to work after a period of medically certified absence.




Notes to editors:


  1. CCW has offices in Edinburgh, Dunfermline and Salisbury.



Issued by Beattie Communications (www.beattiegroup.com) on behalf of CCW Business Lawyers.  For further information please contact Bob Hanlon on 01324 602564.  For more information on CCW visit: http://www.ccwlegal.co.uk/