The Department for Work and Pensions has issued new guidance for employers, employers and doctors on using fit notes. The guidance, based on research and feedback from patients, GPs, employers, is designed to help people use the fit note to its full potential by looking at what a person can do, therefore encouraging a faster return to work.

The new guidance – which is worth reading – makes clear that the fit note is linked to someone’s general fitness for work and is not job-specific, allowing flexibility to discuss what changes could help someone do some work.

The guidance gives doctors support on how they can give the most useful advice about what patients can do at work and how they can return to the workplace as soon as possible, with potential advice being how staff could explore a period of home working or flexible working.

The guidance for employers states that doctors cannot issue fit notes during the first seven calendar days of sickness absence, which employees can self-certify. If an employer requires medical evidence for the first seven days of sickness absence, it is the employer’s responsibility to arrange and pay for this. The requirement for the employer to make the arrangements for medical evidence to be obtained in these circumstances will, in practical terms, make it very difficult for most employers to get an immediate opinion about an employee’s fitness in cases where there is suspicion that the “sickness” is not genuine (for instance when an employee says that they have fallen sick whilst on annual leave, or at the point of being invited to attend a disciplinary hearing).
The guidance also includes:

  • Case studies to illustrate different situations and improved question and answer sections based on common queries,
  • An explanation of how a fit note indicates whether a patient is expected to be fit for work when it expires,
  • Ideas for patients and employers about possible changes to accommodate the advice in the fit note, and
  • Clarification about the legal status of the fit note in relation to sick pay (an employer can refuse to pay sick pay despite an employee having a fit note), situations where an employer cannot make any changes, and non-medical problems at work.

The new fit note system replaces the original fit note that was launched in April 2010, and focuses on what work someone might be able to do when their condition is taken into account, as opposed to what they could not do under the previous system.

You can access the full guidance here: