Employers – it may have passed you by but there were changes to the fit note process last month

What has changed?

Until July this year, fit notes could only be issued by a GP. However from 1 July, nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and physiotherapists are all able to legally certify fit notes in addition to doctors. These healthcare professionals should be treating your employee under NHS services so an employee can’t just go to a local pharmacy for example and ask for a fit note, that pharmacist would to be within a GP practice for example where your employee was receiving treatment.

The fit note itself has been updated too and it can be produced electronically as it will now show the name of the healthcare professional and their profession rather than needing a physical signature, and show the address of the medical practice.

Why has this change been made?

This change doesn’t change the purpose and function of the fit note but makes it easier to get advice certified by the most relevant  professional.

What are fit notes?

Most absence policies require an employee to submit a fit note if they are absent from work through illness for more than 7 days. Employers commonly use the fit notes as evidence to support paying statutory sick pay. The main purpose however is to let an employer know that an employee is not fit for work, and for how long, and also to let an employer know what adjustments could be made to get an employee back to work.

What should you do when receive a fit note?

  1. Check whether your employee’s healthcare professional has assessed that they are not fit for work or may be fit for work with some adjustments e.g. shorter hours for a period of time, travelling at a different time of day, taking more regular breaks, or doing a different type of work for a period of time.
  2. Check how long your employee’s fit note applies for, and whether they are expected to be fit for work when their fit note expires.
  3. If your employee may be fit for work, have a discussion with them about what the fit note says and see if you can agree any changes to help them come back to work while it lasts.
  4. If your employee is not fit for work, or if they may be fit for work but you can’t agree any changes, use the fit note as evidence for your sick pay procedures.
  5. Consider taking a copy of the fit note for your records (your employee should keep the original).

Key Considerations

An employee’s absence will often cause disruption, particularly in smaller businesses with limited numbers of employees in a particular role. The fit note can actually help you reduce your sickness absence costs (for example sick pay, staff cover and lost productivity), and minimises the disruption caused by employees being off sick unnecessarily.

The fit note tells you whether your employee’s healthcare professional thinks they are not fit for any work or whether they may be fit for work (not necessarily their current job). This gives you flexibility to discuss potential changes to help them return to work (which may include changing their duties for a while). The fit note won’t tell you what changes to make, but will give you advice about howyour employee’s health affects what they can do at work.

The fit note also tells you whether your employee is likely to need a new fit note when their current one expires, allowing you to plan for their return or otherwise.

Supporting someone with a health condition to come back to work can save you money and minimise disruption. Employees can often come back to work before they are 100% fit – in fact, work can even help their recovery – unfortunately, the longer an employee is absent from work, the less likely they are to ever return, and a few simple changes can help someone with a health condition come back to work earlier.

Access to Work is a service which can help employees with a disability or health condition stay in work. It won’t pay for reasonable adjustments but can advise employers on what adjustments can be made.

What else do I need to know?

If you can’t make any changes to take account of the advice in the fit note, you don’t have to.

If your employee’s healthcare professional thinks they are fit for work, they will not be issued with a fit note.

Your employee can come back to work at any time, even if this is before their fit note expires. They do not need to go back to their healthcare professional first.

Healthcare professionals cannot issue fit notes during the first 7 calendar days of sickness absence. Employees can self-certify for this time, visit Employee’s statement of sickness to claim Statutory Sick Pay for a template form.

Fit notes can be handwritten but going forward will most often be computer-generated and printed out or computer-generated and sent digitally to your employee.

If they are sent digitally or printed from a GP’s system, it will contain a bar code. You can scan the barcode using a QR code scanner so that you can add it to your sickness records.

If a healthcare professional has issued the fit note following hospital treatment, you may also receive a yellow Med 10 form stating the time your employee has spent as a hospital inpatient.

It’s a good idea to stay connected with your employee while they are away from the workplace. It’s really easy for an employee to feel isolated or as if their employer does not care about them. Guidanceon managing sickness absence is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

And you can find more detailed information on fit notes in this government guidance – Getting the most out of the fit note: guidance for employers and line managers – GOV.UK(www.gov.uk). It also contains a couple of case studies to help employers understand how to use fit notes to support their employees back to work which are good illustrations of the benefits of fit notes.

Our HR Consultants at Albany HR are skilled and experienced in supporting SME business owners and managers with employee sickness and absence to bring it to a good conclusion for the organisation and the employee and can both advise and help manage employees with health conditions. Please get in touch for a chat, letstalk@albanyhr.com,0131 364 4186.