From 6 April 2010, GPs will be issuing new statements of fitness to work or “fit notes” rather than the old sick notes that we are all familiar with.
From this date, GPs will only be able to decide whether a patient is “not fit for work” or “fit for some work”. If a GP decides someone is “fit for some work”, GPs must then choose from a list of 4 to assist with an employee returning to work:-
1) Phased return (coming back gradually);
2) Amended duties (less strenuous duties at first until fully fit);
3) Altered hours; or
4) Workplace Adaptations (use of a stool to sit on, increased breaks).
The introduction of the new statement of fitness for work will mean that there are some key changes for doctors to consider, they are:
- The introduction of a new option – ‘May be fit for work taking account of the following advice’.
- Doctors will no longer be asked to issue statements stating someone is fit for work.
- The note will have increased space for comments on the functional effects of an employee’s condition with tick boxes to indicate simple adjustments or adaptations that could aide their return to work.
- The change will include telephone consultations as an acceptable form of assessment.
- There will be a reduction in the maximum duration of the statement during the first 6 months of illness to 3 months.
Although there will be some changes, many elements of the current system remain the same, including:
- Doctors will still be able to advise the employee that they are not fit for work.
- The statement can only be completed by a doctor.
- The statement is advice from the doctor to the employee that the employee can use as evidence of their fitness for work for sick pay and benefit purposes. The advice on the statement is not binding on employers. The purpose of the advice the doctors provide will be to help the employee and their employer to explore ways of facilitating a return to work, if appropriate. In some cases, this may not be possible and the employee will remain off work as if the doctor had advised that they were not fit for work. In such a situation, they are not required to return to their doctor for a new statement – the statement they have should be considered in the same way as one stating that they are unfit for work.
- Employers’ duties under the Disability Discrimination Act remain unaffected and will continue to apply.
The overall aim is to simplify the current system by combining the Med3 and Med5 into one form. For an example of the new form see the link below:
Interestingly the medical statement no longer includes the facility to state that an employee ‘need not refrain from work’ as it is a common myth that employees are required to be ‘signed back to work’. The idea is that if you ever feel that you require such advice you would now need to seek this from the employee’s doctor or an occupational health specialist via a private arrangement.
Sick notes will no longer be issued on request and there will be a new encouragement to returning to work in any way, shape or form. As an employer you will still need to carry out a risk assessment on the employee's return which will ultimately decide if you felt an employee is actually ‘fit for work’. Specific guidance for individuals, employers and healthcare professionals available and can be found on the Department of Working website.
The purpose of this change is meant to be both beneficial to employers and employees, but will it be successful?
To stand a chance of being successful the relationship between you, staff member and the GP needs to be good; the GP might not understand what you expect of your employee in the workplace, if you are not as supportive or flexible as you might be with staff returning to work and if employees are just trying to play the system and do not really want to return to work.
Normally the longer an employee is out of work the more difficult and less likely it is that the employee will return. Making recruitment and training costs for you more likely. The aim is to try and get people back to work. Whether or not this new policy that seems to promise so much will deliver is dependant upon everyone working together. It is important that all staff know what your policy and expectations are relating to attendance and return to work, and what happens if they fail to meet this. They also need to know how they will be supported if off sick.
It is a good idea to review your current policy so that you are ready for the changes in April 2010 so that you give your business a chance to benefit from these new changes. After all, a business loses money through employees being off sick so anything you can do to help must be a good thing.
Let us have a look at your current policies and talk you through how to pitch the changes to your employees so that you get the best out of this change.
If you have any further questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact one of the Employment Team.