Statement of Fitness for Work (The Fit Note)

Statement of Fitness for Work (The Fit Note)

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if the doctor has indicated ‘may be fit for work’?

The Statement has been designed to give you the information needed to begin a discussion with an employee on whether they can return to work despite their illness or injury. You should consider the doctor’s comments and discuss this with your employee. If a return to work is possible you should agree any temporary changes to their job or hours and what support you will provide and for how long. If you have access to an occupational health provider you may want to discuss it with them too.

If you have a sickness absence policy, you should consider whether it needs amending to reflect the introduction of the Statement of Fitness for Work. This may involve consultation with your employees or their representatives.

Is the advice on the Statement binding?

No. This is about giving you greater flexibility and better information to manage sickness absence. It’s your choice after discussing the Statement with your employee, how to act on the doctor’s advice. When considering the doctors advice, you should always consider if the advice is consistent with any industry or sector specific safety guidelines or regulations that the doctor may not be aware of.

If the doctor has advised that your employee ‘may be fit for work’, and you cannot make the adaptations or adjustments to help a return to work, you should explain the reasons for this to your employee and then use the Statement as if the doctor had advised ‘not fit for work’. Your employee does not need to go back to their doctor for a new Statement to confirm this.

Will I still be covered by my Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance (ELCI)?

Your liability insurance should not prevent employees who ‘may be fit for work’, return to or remain in work. Also, you do not need a Medical Statement stating fitness for work for an employee to return to work. An employee does not necessarily need to be 100% fit to return to work. However, you will need to continue to manage your employees appropriately and carry out a risk assessment – based on the evidence from the doctor, your knowledge of the work and workplace and further support where necessary. If you have any concerns about the coverage of your insurance, you should contact your insurer.

Is it going to cost me more?

An earlier return to work can result in savings from a reduction in sick pay and other costs of sickness absence such as turnover costs, loss of skills base, re­training costs and poor staff morale. There may also be an increase in revenue and profits that will come from any additional output produced.

How does this affect the Disability Discrimination Act?

If your employee has a condition covered under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), your obligations under the law have not changed.

How long do any amended duties or workplace adaptations have to last for?

On the Statement a doctor will state the period of time their advice is for. When agreeing a return to work plan you should always be clear on the length of time any amended duties or support is for. In most cases this will be about temporary measures. If the employee cannot then return to their normal duties, you may need to discuss further or alternative temporary measures or, if needed, have a discussion on the long­term effects of their health condition on their job, taking into account your responsibilities under the DDA.

Can I request a Medical Statement advising that my employee is ‘fit for work’?

Unlike the sick note, the Statement of Fitness for Work does not include the option for doctors to advise someone that they are fully fit for work. You do not need to be fully fit to return to work and it is a myth that an employee needs to be ‘signed back’ to work by a doctor. In some cases, there are existing procedures to ensure someone is fit to carry out their role safely and these should be followed – for example with the DVLA rules for LGV/PCV drivers.

If you feel you need a medical opinion stating that your employee is fit for work you can enter into a private arrangement with a GP or occupational health specialist.

What should I do if an employee wants to return to work before the end of a ‘not fit for work’ Statement?

Sometimes your employee will be able to return to work before the end of a Statement period where a doctor has advised that they are not fit for work. This may be because the employee has recovered faster than the doctor expected, or the doctor did not know of ways in which you could support your employee to return to work.

If you agree with your employee that it is appropriate for them to return to work, you do not need to wait until the end of the Statement period for them to do so.

What should I do if I offer support to an employee to aid them to return to work and they disagree?

If you believe that on the basis of the advice from the doctor and your knowledge of the workplace, you can support your employee to return to work and they disagree with your proposal, your first option should always be to discuss the issues with your employee to find out why they believe they cannot return to work. There may be an aspect of their condition or the workplace that you have not considered.

If no agreement on your employee’s fitness for work can be reached, you may want to consult an occupational health specialist and, if needed, you should consider your organisational policy for absence disputes. More information on best practice and support can be found from Acas online at www.acas.org.uk. If the disagreement is about the payment of SSP then there is a prescribed HMRC procedure – see Statutory Sick Pay Guide for Employers (2012-2013) for more details. Your aim should be to ensure that both you and your employee are comfortable with the support that is being offered. If there is disagreement you may wish to suggest that the employee seeks advice from their trade union or an advice centre.

What should I do if I do not understand the advice on the Statement?

If you do not understand or are unsure on how to act on the advice on the Statement your first option is always to discuss the advice with your employee. They may be able to provide more information on the context of the advice. If you are still unsure you may want to consider advice from an occupational health professional (see below). You can also write to the doctor for more information; however, bear in mind that you may have to pay for this service and a busy GP may not be able to respond to your enquiry immediately.

What do I need to do if the doctor has recommended an occupational health referral for my employee?

A doctor will recommend an occupational health assessment where they feel your employee’s condition is complex and/or work may be a contributory factor. It is your decision whether to act on this advice and in some cases you may be able to provide simple and practical support to your employee without needing additional expertise. However, for complex and work­related conditions occupational health support should be seriously considered. The benefit of this support, in many circumstances, will be greater than the financial investment.

If you do not have access to occupational health support, information on how to find occupational health providers in your area is in the ‘where to go for further information and support’ section of this guide.

How does this affect Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?

Your responsibilities to pay Statutory Sick Pay have not changed. SSP will still be payable under the current rules for any sickness absence of 4 days or more where the employee meets the qualifying conditions. Where a doctor has advised that an employee may be fit for work, but the employee remains off work because you are not able to provide the necessary support, you should consider the advice on the Statement as you would a ‘not fit for work’ Statement. Your responsibilities to pay SSP in these cases will not change. For more information on SSP see the Statutory Sick Pay Guide for Employers (2012-2013).

In cases where it may be appropriate to support your employee back to work by reducing their hours they work for a period, you should consider the financial impact on them and whether they might be disadvantaged.

In such cases it is important to remember that SSP is only a minimum provision. When considering a return to work involving reduced hours, it may be cost effective to consider paying sick pay for the hours not worked due to illness or injury, even when SSP does not apply.

If you operate a separate occupational sick pay scheme, the changes may also have implications for the scheme. If so, you should seek to review it in consultation with your employees or their representatives.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is nothing more than a careful consideration of what, in your workplace, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm. More information on how to complete a risk assessment can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/risk/fivesteps.htm.

Fit Note © Crown Copyright 2013

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