Fit note to help sick employees get back to work
A new ‘fit note’ is to be introduced by the government next year to help employees get back to work as soon as they are able.
While still under consultation, the new system is due to be introduced in April 2010. The government hopes it will replace the current ‘sick note culture’ by helping more people stay in employment, rather than drifting into long-term sickness absence.
Unlike the current system, which focuses on how long a person should be given complete leave from work, one of the main proposals under the reforms is a ‘may be fit for some work now’ option. This will require GPs to consider how a person could be eased back into the workplace, with options including a phased return to work, altered hours or amended duties.
GPs may also be able to recommend workplace or job changes to employers. For example, if the employee has a mobility problem, the GP may suggest a role where they can work sitting down, not standing up.
However, employers will not be legally obliged to implement recommendations, and will remain responsible for ensuring their employee is fit to return to work under the terms of their contract.
Work and Pensions Minister, Lord Bill McKenzie, said that the fit note would make it easier for businesses to deal with staff sick leave.
“Employers tell us that managing sickness absence can be a challenge. This is compounded by a ‘sick note system’ that makes sickness absence a black-and-white issue – either you are unfit for work or you are not.
“We recognise how important it is to help people who are sick to stay in work or get back to work quickly, and this new fit note will help do just that."
A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses said most employers would welcome the new scheme, as it meant more people would be re-entering work.
“At the moment the system relies on busy GPs who can only spend eight minutes with a patient and are under immense pressure to sign sick notes. Absence costs the UK economy billions a year, so we need to change the emphasis towards supporting people back into the workplace.”
A consultation on the reforms is due to close on 19 August. Businesses interested in commenting on the draft regulations should contact the Department of Work and Pensions on 0207 449 5586 or email firstname.lastname@example.org#