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Navigating Fit Notes in the Workplace: What Employers Need to Know

The Department for Work and Pension has recently updated its guidance for employers and line managers regarding the use of “fit notes.” This is particularly important due to the increased levels of long-term sickness. Fit notes, also known as “statements of fitness for work,” provide crucial information for managing employee health situations in the workplace.

What’s New: The updated guidance offers several resources, including a checklist for employers to support discussions with employees after receiving a fit note. It also includes an explanation of the fit note form to help employers understand its information and the significance of the dates on it. Additionally, the new guidance presents case studies, primarily focusing on situations where an employee may be considered “fit for work,” which necessitates careful consideration and discussion.

The changes in fit note guidance have come in response to challenges posed by the post-pandemic environment, with an overburdened healthcare system and rising levels of long-term sickness. Notable changes include allowing digital issuance of fit notes and permitting various healthcare professionals (not just GPs) to issue them.

Key Takeaways: The guidance doesn’t alter the underlying rules but serves as a useful refresher on some essential aspects:

  1. When: Employees can self-certify for the first 7 days of sickness absence; afterward, entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) depends on a valid fit note. Most employees do not require a “signed back into work” note.
  2. Duration: The healthcare professional’s judgment determines the length of the fit note. In the first six months, it can be issued for a maximum of three months. Fit notes can’t be issued with a future start date but can be backdated.
  3. Options: Fit notes classify employees as “may be fit for work” or “not fit for work.” The former provides advice for employers to consider, discuss, and potentially make accommodations for the employee.
  4. Nature: Fit notes can only be issued for medical problems, so employers should consider other support resources for non-medical issues affecting employees.
  5. Temporary Changes: The updated guidance emphasises the consideration of temporary adjustments to facilitate a return to work, with case studies offering specific suggestions.
  6. Mandatory Changes and Reasonable Adjustments: Employers are not obliged to follow fit note suggestions, but reasonable adjustments are crucial, especially for disabilities. Failure to make reasonable adjustments can lead to discrimination.
  7. Collaboration: Communication and collaboration are essential in managing sickness absence effectively, with fit notes serving as a catalyst for discussions about the employee’s health and potential adjustments.

Managing Sickness Absence: Using fit note information is just one part of managing sickness absence. Additional factors to consider include the duration of absence, the pattern of absence, and how it affects an employee’s ability to work. Collaborating with occupational health services and seeking detailed medical advice can be essential depending on the circumstances.

This updated guidance is part of a broader effort to support employees in returning to and staying at work, particularly in the face of increasing long-term sickness. You can view the full guidance here:

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the team at ViewHR.