From the sick note to the fit note – helping staff get back to work?

The major change brought about by the fit note, which came into force on 6 April 2010, was the inclusion of the ‘may be fit for work’ category allowing GPs to specify measures that employers could consider that might enable employees return to work (e.g. reduced hours, light duties) even before they are fully fit.

Now research conducted by XpertHR (‘Are fit notes fit for purpose?’) has found that more than 85% of employers are not convinced that GPs are making it clear in the fit notes what needs to be done in order to get employees back to work. The research results suggest that:

  • four out of 10 employers struggle to interpret what is being asked of them by GPs because of a lack of detail regarding the basis on which an employee could return to work, and a lack of understanding on the part of GP of the nature of the employee’s work/workplace;
  • one third of employers find it hard to implement GPs’ suggestions.

However, the research also suggests some more positive outcomes since the introduction of the fit note, including a perception amongst some employers that:

  • dialogue between employers and employees about the return to work has improved;
  • the system appears easier to administer;
  • the inclusion of an option for a phased return to work, followed by amended duties, is a positive step.

One criticism that was made of the new system is the common need to speak to an occupational health professional in order to get clarification on the advice given by GPs; organisations who do not have access to occupational health services may find it difficult to assess precisely what adjustments would allow the employee to return to work on the basis of a few short words on a fit note. In addition, employers will have to consider whether a ‘half-fit’ employee poses any additional risks in terms of health and safety, and what measures would need to be put in place in order to deal with such concerns.

Luckily the free Health for Work Adviceline is available from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday to help organisations with fewer than 250 employees to consider these issues, along with any other employee health-related queries. And there is a call-back form on the website ( in case of calls outside these hours (calls will be returned within 2 hours of the next working day) – 0800 0 77 88 44.

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  1. Pingback: New computer-completed fit note from July 2012 | Health4Work Blog – Articles on small business workplace health