Fit For Purpose

The new ‘statement of fitness for work’ certificates – informally known as ‘fit notes’ – come into effect on 6 April to replace the medical certificates currently in use (‘sick notes’).

The Government’s aim in introducing the new certificates is suggested by its colloquial name – to get people back to work in some form as soon as possible, focusing on what they can do rather than on what they cannot.

The Government has set in place good practice for the use of fit notes and has provided examples of the most common steps that employers might take to provide for a return to work such as; altered hours, amended duties, phased return or workplace adaptations – the fit notes also leave open the opportunity for doctors to suggest other adjustments. We suspect that the change of form will not have a significant impact on the practical objection that employers often have with doctors’ certificates.

For many employers, the system has fallen into disrepute due to the apparent lack of transparency in respect of the detail set out on a sick note. The majority of sick notes are probably both appropriate and warranted, but are often used as a bargaining tool to assist in an exit strategy. One of the issues to over come from an employers perspective is that a doctor’s duty quite rightly is to his or her patient and it is therefore hard to see that the fit notes will have an impact in such situations.

It may therefore be that the new regime will not succeed in restoring the credibility of the system in employers’ eyes. Without careful management of sickness absence and the input of the GP, the interests of both the employer and employee will not be best served unless there is a carefully drafted sickness policy in place and that managers are trained to implement such a policy.

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