Is the fit note fit for purpose?

When the ‘Fit note’ replaced the ‘sick note’ in 2010, it was hoped that it would herald a new way for employers to manage sickness absence.

Instead of the binary approach of being either fit or unfit for work, it introduced a third category where employees ‘may be fit for work’ if some basic support was provided by the employer. It was thought this third option would enable an earlier and more effective return for some people and enable them to work, perhaps on a phased return, as they continued to recover from their condition.

It was also hoped that the fit note would facilitate a better-quality conversation between the employer and the absent employee, with the benefit of medical advice. However, the fit note has not met expectation according to many experts and employment organisations. For example, the EEF’s 2016 Sickness Absence survey asked if the fit note is past its sell-by date; the findings showed that 45% of employers say that the fit note is not helping employees to return to work earlier, and that 52% disagree that the GP advice given on the fit note has helped them make adjustments at work for their employees.

The Government now intends to review the current operation of the fit note – it says the option for the doctor to use a ‘may be fit for work subject to the following advice’ is rarely used. The review will also look at whether or not fit note certification should be extended to other healthcare professionals aside from doctors, such as occupational health nurses or physiotherapists.

The CIPD is part of a Government working group set up to review the operation of the fit note and we want to give as informed a view as possible, based on the experiences of our members. We would therefore be grateful if you could take just a couple of minutes to complete this very brief survey for us.

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