After the much awaited Fit Note arriving on the scene back in April 2010 – has it really helped businesses to manage absence more effectively and improve attendance levels? It would appear that the sick note has not had any positive impact on reducing absence levels.
The fit note was introduced so that GP’s could provide advice on how to facilitate an employee’s return to work. Recent studies have received mixed reviews. Some employers believing it is a mere ‘box ticking’ exercise for GP’s with little helpful information provided and others believing that employees are signed off as unfit to work when in fact, they may be fit to do some work if adjustments were made.
Despite these results the Government has gone on to gradually introduce the computer generated fit note which will be rolled out across the country over time.
Where the GP has indicated that the employee may be fit to return to work the most common advice GP’s are scribing is ‘a phased return’ or ‘amended duties’ but without any supporting advice as to what that means in practice – which is of little help to the employer. A large proportion of my clients have certainly been experiencing this lack of additional information.
Despite any recommendations that are made by the GP, it does not mean that the employer is in anyway obligated to make the adjustment. The aim of this ‘advice’ is to enable the employer and the employee to explore this as a possible route to get the employee back to work rather than remaining off sick for a longer period.
The employer should consider the ‘advice’ and decide whether or not it is feasible to provide the support/adjustment suggested taking into account the impact this will have on the employee’s ability to do his job, the impact on others and the workplace more generally. There may of course be other adjustments that we could put forward to the employee that have not previously been mentioned by the GP or the employee that could enable a return to work. If the employer is unable to provide any adjustments (as recommended by the GP or otherwise) then the employee would have to remain off sick until such a time that they are fully recovered or other adjustments can be made.
BUT, employers do need to be mindful of their duties under the Equality Act 2010 in the case of disabled employees (as defined within the Act). If the employer declines, without good reason, to make an adjustment suggested on the fit note (or otherwise) that could enable the disabled employee to return to work, the employer may be in breach of its duty under the Equality Act. If in doubt… take advice!
Overall, the introduction of the fit note hasn’t, it would appear hindered the process of getting our employees back to work but it hasn’t necessarily helped much either! We understand the Government is aiming to provide more guidance to GP’s on the use of Fit Notes as well as offering an independent assessment service to help employers. The jury is out on whether this will help employers to make more informed decisions about reasonable adjustments and continued employment of their long term sick employees. Watch this space……
If you would like to share your views and experiences with us about the effectiveness of fit notes and managing employee absences please leave your comments.
If you would like advice or management training on managing sick employees back to work or you are considering dismissing, please get in touch.