From 6 April 2010, if Parliament approves the changes, a new 'fit note' is going to be introduced in place of the traditional doctor's sick note that we all know and love.
This new 'fit note' will be called the 'Statement of Fitness for Work' and will provide more information than the existing sickness certificate. In reality this will mean instead of only having the patient's medical condition on the form and a return date you might be advised that your employee, although not 100 % fit and well, may still be able to carry out some work now. The GP will have the option of setting out some simple changes which could help them back into the workplace, such as a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties or workplace adaptations. The fit note will also advise if the doctor needs to see your employee again before returning to work. The intention behind this change is to alter the focus, with an emphasis on fitness rather than sickness.
The new fit note is intended to help people return to work as soon as possible and research has showed the longer an employee is off work the harder it is for them to return and also that work aids a quicker recovery form illness. Employers will benefit from having key personnel or skilled staff still contributing to the success of the business and a reduction in sickness absence.
However, the suggested fit notes are already causing controversy on the basis that GP's do not have sufficient training in occupational health to make a valid judgement of an employee's work related capabilities and employers are not required to follow the GP's recommendations.
The effectiveness of the new fit note will remain to be seen but in the meantime it is essential you have a clear and detailed sickness absence policy and continue to effectively manage sickness absence.