With election fever gripping everyone’s thoughts, and business news being full of the consequences of the result, you may be forgiven for not noticing a change to the ‘sick note’ regime that came into effect from the 6th of April.
The scheme is designed to reduce the £17.3 billion estimated cost to the UK economy caused by staff absenteeism by allowing health professionals and employers to look at what an employee can do as opposed to what they can’t.
Under the old ‘Sick note’ culture, which was first introduced in 1922, employees were either unfit for work, in which case they were signed off by the GP, or they were fit for work, and expected to perform their usual duties.
The new fit note creates the ability for the employee to discuss their condition with the health professional and determine the tasks that can and can’t be undertaken and the length of time until full duties can be resumed.
This puts greater emphasis on the employer to accommodate an employee who is returning to work on a ‘may be fit for some work’ recommendation from the doctor. The employer is expected to assess the working conditions, such as whether the employee can easily climb stairs and if not, whether they can work on the ground floor, as well as providing a risk assessment for both the employee and their colleagues.
Depending upon the employee’s condition and the recommendations of the GP, it may not be possible for them to return because the roles that the fit note suggests aren’t required. In cases such as this, the employer is entitled to state that the employee is not fit for work and ask them not to attend the workplace, but because they have indicated a willingness to return to perform the tasks outlined by the GP, they may be entitled to full pay whilst they are away.
Employers also need to take into consideration the Disability Discrimination Act when an employee produces a fit note. Measures have to be taken to show that an employee is given the opportunity to return to work under acceptable conditions as soon as is possible.
For this scheme to work, it is vital that there is clear communication between employers and employees and that all steps are documented so as to demonstrate that opportunities are being given. Aiding an employee’s early return to work can help them overcome their condition sooner, can increase productivity for your organisation and can help reduce the costs of absenteeism, but the challenge is doing this in a way that benefits all parties and doesn’t leave you open to any risk or claims at a later date.