When dealing with employees returning to work after long sickness absence, employers should implement working policies diligently.
If an employee expresses a desire to return to the workplace, they must prove the medical state of their fitness – with a Fit to Work note.
Fit to work notes are designed to determine whether an employee is fit or not fit enough to return to work. They also provided guidance on workplace support for employees, as they prepare to head back into the workplace.
What is a Fit for Work note?
In April 2010, the government introduced the Fit to Work note as a modification to the previously known ‘Sick Note,’ (or Medical Statement).
Fit notes consist of a GP’s outline regarding an employee’s medical conditions. Their diagnosis will state whether an employee may or may not be fit enough to return to work. They also provide suggestions for workplace alterations that can help support employees returning to work, whilst in their conditions. The outline is documented on a fit for work note and is remitted to the employer, and the employee in question.
It’s important to remember that a doctor can only pass diagnosis on whether a person may or may not be fit for work. The fit note stands as a doctor’s recommendation and is not legally binding for employers and employees alike.
General guidance on Fit for Work notes
An employee provides a fit for work note when their sickness absence is longer than seven calendar days.
Absences that are seven calendar days and less do not require a fit note. Instead, employees ‘self-certify’ their reasons for sick leave.
They are then provided with statutory sick pay, based on their eligibility.
Employers should consider the following when presented with a fit for work note.
- Check whether an employee’s doctor has diagnosed them as fit or not fit for work.
- Check the time-period the fit note applies for. (Also establish if the employee is expected to recover when the fit note expires).
- Discuss any workplace alterations written in the fit note, which will support returning employees.
- Keep a copy of the employee’s fit note, (the employee should keep the original).
- If an employee is not fit for work, or you can’t apply the workplace alterations, use the fit note as evidence for SSP (statutory sick pay).
Although employers aren’t legally obligated to fulfil the Fit for Work statement, considerations can provide returning employees with support and encouragement.
Employers can benefit from a decrease in sickness absences, staff cover, and sick pay. It also minimizes disruption caused by employees on sick leave, and losses against business productivity
What should I do if my employee ‘may’ be Fit for Work?
Employers should introduce a return to work plan (a policy created under the Fit for Work programme) for returning employees.
Easing them back through temporary workplace alterations will aid their return. These alterations can range from not allowing them to do heavy lifting, to a halt on certain job tasks.
Recommendations that could be included in a return to work plan are:
- Gradual speed of returning to work
- Amending select duties
- Having alternative working hours
- Incorporate ‘reasonable’ workplace alterations (changing desk setup, office adjustments).
Fit for Work exclusions and disagreements
It is advised to seek consultation from independent expert bodies for any unclear understandings for fit notes. Situations can range from the authenticity of fit notes to dealing with disputes for ‘not fit for work’ notes. Consult with an occupational health specialist or an independent doctor if faced with unclear resolutions for such cases.
My employee has rejected their Return to Work plan.
You should discuss the structure of their return to work plan, and all available support provided for them. Allow the employee to voice any concerns they may have regarding the temporary guidelines for returning to work.
If an agreement cannot be met, you should then seek advice from occupational health advisers and HR representatives. The consultation will help you draw a strategy that both you and your employee will comfortably benefit from.
I’m unsure about how to implement workplace alterations.
Remember that you are not legally obligated to implement workplace alterations recommended in a fit for work note. Unless the employee has a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, in which case you have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to assist them at work
If you are unsure about how to implement these changes, you can seek understanding from the employee in question. They may be able to further explain the context of the statement discussed with their doctor.
You can also seek advice from the occupational health team. They will provide legitimate recommendations, combined with the practical guidelines for your business.
If you cannot implement the workplace alterations, explain this to your employee, and conclude the fit note should be read as ‘not fit for work’. Here, the employee does not have to return with a new fit for work note from their doctor for confirmation.
My employee wants to return before the end of their ‘not fit for work’ note.
It’s possible that employees may want to return to work earlier than their doctor‘s note restrictions. They may feel they have recovered faster than expected.
Employers should consider their health and safety responsibilities within the workplace. Seek advice on this to establish legalities for an employee’s return to work.
Get expert support on sickness and absence with Peninsula
Supporting your employees with medical sick note conditions will aid productivity and minimise business disruption.
Having an efficient return to work strategy will provide individually tailored support for a healthy return to the workplace, concentrating on employee welfare and wellbeing.
Get our expert team to draft a plan for you. Peninsula clients get access to 24/7 HR to consult our specialists on or secure air-tight contracts with our document experts.
And if you’re not yet a client, you can still enjoy a free advice call from one of our business experts. Simply call us on 0800 028 2420.