Government Revises Guidance on Fit Notes
With nearly three years of practical experience to draw from, the Government have this month issued revised guidance to GPs & others on the use of fit notes.
The new guidance – provided not a moment too soon given the failure of GPs to properly facilitate the possibilities of the fit note previously – includes “ideas for patients and employers about possible changes to accommodate the advice in the fit note”.
Arguably some of this advice shouldn’t be necessary – it should have been the norm since fit notes were introduced 3 years ago. Unfortunately though, GPs didn’t always express their views too clearly. Take for example, a series of fit notes considered by Employment Law Clinic in 2010 & 2011, involving an employee signed-off sick with “work related stress/nervous debility”. The fit note advised that the patient was “not fit for work”, but without adding any comments about what the employer might do that may have enabled the employee to be fit for work, or what the employee might do to address their attendance – the second option on fit notes provides “you may be fit for work taking account of the following advice: “
When it came to an employment tribunal hearing (the employee was later dismissed due to capability; the claim was upheld, set aside on appeal), the GP explained (see the judgment, page 5, paragraph 22) the that she hoped that the employer might react to the fit notes by arranging to meet with the employee on the issue, and suggested that the employee might attend the Citizens Advice Bureau, both of these having the intention of tackling the workplace stress. These actions were not pursued upon receipt of the fit notes, and arguably very fairly, as the employer at least was given no indication this might assist the employee – the GP had not given any clue that the employee may be fit for work with the benefit of any change to the working arrangements – but was led to believe that the employee was not fit for work, and there was nothing they could do to assist a return to work.
Employers can expect to receive the new fit notes, which may include computer-generated fit notes, any time now. Revised guidance on what to do on receipt of these is provided by DWP.