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Fit for work notes

May 13, 2010

The Dame Carol Black Review into the Health of Britain’s Working Age Population in 2008 made a number of recommendations around the health and well-being of population.  Amongst other recommendations is one that calls for a change to the way sick notes are issued.  The recommendation states ‘The paper-based sick note should be replaced with an electronic fit note, switching the focus to what people can do and improving communication between employers, employees and GPs.’

The new medical statement or ‘Fit Note’ came into effect on 6th April 2010.   The old sick notes said whether a person should be off sick or was able to return to work whereas, the new Fit Note states a) Whether the person should be off work or b) If they may be fit to do some work if certain changes made.     The full review can be read here.

In most instances members will notice very little difference between the old ‘sick note’ and the new ‘fit note’. However, a major area of concern for the UCU is in cases where work itself is the cause of illness. Few doctors are qualified to determine if the causes of sickness in the workplace have been eliminated and the intention is that the employer may be required to make appropriate adjustments and adaptation, perhaps to allow a graded return to work. The university of Leeds has an occupational health service which will be involved. Members should read carefully the UCU guidance (Download docx file) on the ‘fit note’, together with the TUC guidance. Any concerns you may have about your return from work when sick should be shared with your UCU rep. The UCU will also approach the university for a ‘no detriment’ agreement for those returning to work from a period of illness.

Briefly, other areas of concern are:

  • Employees may feel forced back to work before they are ready.
  • Employees may feel pressured to return back to work early due to pressures in meeting targets and the fear of redundancies. This will only worsen their condition further, especially in cases where the condition is not physical such as stress and is not advisable.
  • The employer does not take the recommended action
  • It is envisaged that this is the main concern many employees will raise with their representatives.  Regardless of the recommendations made on the Fit Note by your GP, it is important to understand that your employer does not have to accept it.  The status of the Fit Note is that it is non-binding advice and is only legal in terms of Statutory Sick Pay payments.
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