06 April 2010

‘Fit' notes

Christina Morton
Professional support lawyer | UK

The format for certifying sickness absence from work changes today with the introduction of a ‘Statement of Fitness to Work’. The new one page certificate allows a doctor to suggest alternatives to the traditional not fit to work approach.

The intention behind the new notes is to tackle ‘the erroneous belief that if you are not 100% fit you should not be in work or, indeed, that work can hinder recovery’. This belief was considered and challenged by the 2008 report of Dame Carol Black, ‘Working for a healthier tomorrow’, which recommended switching the focus from what people cannot do to what they can do.

In completing the certificate, doctors will be able to tick the box that says the employee is not fit for work at all. Alternatively they will be able to tick the box that says ‘You may be fit for some work taking account of the following advice’. The form then says ‘If available, and with your employer’s agreement, you may benefit from:

  • A phased return
  • Altered hours
  • Amended duties
  • Workplace adaptations.’

The purpose of the list of options is to encourage discussion between the employee and the doctor as to the measures that might enable the employee to return to work sooner, albeit on a phased or amended basis. The Government decided against including the option of a referral to Occupational Health for fear that this might become the default option, thereby undermining the purpose of the new certificate.

The doctor may then complete the section beginning ‘Comments, including functional effects of your condition(s):’ before confirming the period covered by the certificate and indicating whether or not the employee needs to see the doctor again at the end of this period to assess fitness for work. The maximum duration of a certificate issued during the first six months of a patient’s health condition is reduced from six months to three months.

The Government has also elected not to include a ‘Fit to work’ option, on the basis that the decision as to whether or not an employee is fit for work is a decision for the employer, who is better placed than the doctor to assess the requirements of the role. The new certificates do not therefore remove the need for independent medical reports where employers need detailed guidance as to what employees can be expected to do, or where they are concerned as to what adjustments might need to be made to comply with the duty to make adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act 1996.

Amid concerns that a ‘Fit for work’ certificate may be needed for safety critical roles in particular, the Government has confirmed with the Association of British Insurers that a ‘fit for work’ statement is not needed for Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance reasons.

For a copy of the new certificate click here

Christina Morton Professional support lawyer | London

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