Employees are legally entitled to take time away from work if they get ill, have a medical condition, or experience an injury. In some cases, the employee must provide you with a fit note.
Fit notes are not just a case of an employee phoning in to report their absence. So, as an employer, you need to understand how fit notes work.
In this guide, we'll discuss who can provide fit notes, when your employees must give you one, and how they should get a note.
What is a fit for work note?
Fit notes (formally known as sick notes) are written statements from a registered healthcare professional that gives their official opinion on a person's fitness for work. The formal name for a fit note is "Statement of Fitness for Work".
They are a way for healthcare professionals to advise employees of the impact of their health condition or injury on their fitness for work.
Which healthcare professionals can issue a fit note?
As an employer, you need to be aware of who can give your employees a sick note. The following healthcare professionals can provide fit notes for your staff:
- A doctor or nurse.
- A GP from a GP practice.
- Occupational therapist or physiotherapist (occupational therapists are commonly used after workplace injuries).
The health professional can provide an employee with a fit note based on a written report from another professional.
When does an employee need a fit note?
When an employee may need a fit note depends entirely on the length of their absence. It's important you know this before you wrongly demand a fit note from an ill employee.
If they're off work for seven days or less
An employee doesn't need to provide medical evidence they've been ill if they're off for less than seven days. In these cases, an employee will make their employer aware they aren't well - this is called self-certification. Employers often complete a self-certification form.
However, an employer may choose to request medical evidence if an employee is repeatedly off work sick. A private medical certificate can be issued for illnesses under seven days by a healthcare professional. If this is the case, company rules will apply.
You should make your employee aware that a private certificate costs £10. However, charges can vary depending on the provider.
If they're off work for more than seven days
For employees that have a sickness absence for more than seven days, a fit note will be required.
If they know they're going to be off work for longer than seven days, employees should try and get a fit note to you on their seventh day of sick leave.
There may be a delay in the employee getting a fit note from a healthcare professional, for example not being able to book a doctor's appointment. If this is the case, they should contact you as soon as possible and explain the situation.
How should an employee count sick days?
An employee should count all the days they don't work as part of their sick days. For example, any weekends and bank holidays.
You should make your employees aware of this, and it should be included in your employee handbook.
How can an employee get a fit note?
For an employee to get a fit note, they should contact the healthcare professional that's been treating them. A fit note will only be provided if the illness, medical condition, or injury affects their work.
Duplicate fit notes can only be issued if the original has been lost. However, some providers will be happy to issue duplicates.
How is an employee's fitness for work assessed
A healthcare professional will assess an employee and decide if their health affects their fitness for work. They will advise on whether they are "not fit for work" or "may be fit for work taking into account the following advice".
This may lead to possible changes to their job being made temporarily.
Does a sick note need to be signed by a healthcare professional?
No, since the introduction of the new version of the fit note - they no longer need to be physically signed by the issuer.
However, whilst they are being rolled out the previous version of the note is still legally valid.
What should be included in a fit note?
As an employer, you need to know what's included on a fit note. This is so you can tell whether a note from an employee is real or not.
The note is split into two main sections, tick boxes, and a comments box. As well as the employee's personal details.
The tick boxes
There are two tick box options on a fit note. They are:
- "Is not fit for work".
- "Might be fit for work".
If the top option is selected, the employee will be off for however long the medical professional advises. A new note can be issued on the expiry. You should keep in contact with them during their absence.
The comments box
The comments box is used by the professional issuing the note to give you a more detailed overview of the employee's illness or condition.
This typically includes advice about what the employee can do at work and whether it is their usual job. For example, if they are suffering from a back injury or back pain - they should avoid heavy lifting and perform different duties.
The box also includes further advice on whether the employee can drive, if they require regular breaks, the need to work different hours, or if they should return to work gradually.
It helps to ensure maximum flexibility between both parties when the employee returns to work and avoids further injury. The last thing you want is for an employee to return to work too quickly, and cause further injury to themselves down the line.
You should always take into consideration any recommendations made, as they can help the employee return to work quicker.
Does an employee need a fit note for more time off?
Yes, employees need further fit notes for ongoing treatments or to aid their recovery. This is especially the case if the employee had to receive hospital treatment.
However, if they’re going to be off for longer than adjustments need to be made.
The employee should visit their GP if they need a new note to cover a longer period of time. You should never rush someone's return to work.
Can employers ever ask to see an employee's medical record?
Yes, an employer can ask to see an employee's medical record. However, this can only happen if you act legally. It must be in circumstances which are necessary.
- To fully assess if an employee is fit to carry out their work.
- To prevent health and safety risks for a particular employee.
- To prevent disability discrimination against an employee.
Be aware that you can only access someone's medical records with the full permission of the employee.
Should an employee use their fit note to claim sickness-related benefits?
Yes, an employee can use their fit note to support their claim for sickness-related benefits. The note can be used as proof they're suffering from illness, injury or a medical condition.
Do employees need a fit note to receive sick pay?
Get expert advice on fit-for-work notes from Peninsula
Employees are legally entitled to take time away from work if they get ill, have a medical condition, or have an injury. However, sometimes a fit note must be provided to their employer when doing so.
You need to understand how fit notes work and everything you need to know, as they may be off work for a period of time.