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Fit Notes – What Employers Need to Know

A Statement of Fitness to Work (‘fit note’), introduced in April 2010 to replace the ‘sick note’, is a medical statement provided by doctors to show that their patient’s ability to work is affected by health problems. In contrast to the sick note, the fit note focuses on what the worker may be able to do at work, rather than what they cannot do. This approach was taken to encourage the return to work and reduce the levels of long-term ill health in workers.

The fit note provides advice on when the worker may be fit for work, suggestions of common ways to help the worker return to work sooner, and information on how the worker’s condition will affect what they can do. Fit notes can also be used as evidence that a worker cannot work due to illness or an injury, but this does not need to be provided by the worker until after their seventh day of sickness.

When doctors complete a fit note, they will advise that their patient fits into one of two categories – ‘not fit for work’ or, ‘may be fit for work’. If the worker is considered ‘not fit for work’, this suggests that the worker’s health condition will prevent them from working for a stated period of time. If the worker is classed as ‘may be fit for work’, this suggests that the worker may be able to return to work whilst in recovery with help from their employer.

If appropriate, doctors may suggest one or more common ways that an employer could help encourage a return to work, e.g. through a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties, and changes to the workplace. This was intended to benefit both workers and employers by encouraging communication between the two parties, and allowing workers to return to work before they are 100% recovered. However, many employers believe that the fit note has been unsuccessful in achieving this and evidence has shown that this could be because some employers are reluctant to contact absent staff for fear of being accused of harassment.

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