Fit note guidance clears up outstanding issues

A guidance document on the government’s system of fit notes published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last month helps to provide clarity for employers on how to use fit notes and how to manage employees while they are absent from work.

Getting the most out of the fit note: guidance for employers and line managers explains what employers should do if they are given a fit note by an employee, what different sections of the fit note mean, and how it can be used most effectively.

Richard Baker, a solicitor at Shoosmiths, said: “The guidance is helpful because there was a sense that employers didn’t know what weight to give fit notes from GPs.

“For example, we had a number of queries from [employers about] whether they could disregard sick notes. This guidance gives some strong advice on the problem.

“It doesn’t give all the answers, but there was a grey area about how binding fit notes were and the guidance indicates that employers have a degree of freedom if they have got other information and medical advice in front of them. That was an issue that came up a number of times.”

The guidance also recommends that employers check how long an employee’s fit note applies for. If an employee is fit for work, the employer should discuss their fit note and see if they can agree any changes that will help them come back to work.

If an employee is not fit for work, the employer should use the fit note as evidence for sick pay procedures. In this instance, employers should consider taking a copy of the fit note for their records and keep in touch with sick staff while they are away.

Other guidance in the document includes the rules that doctors cannot issue fit notes during the first seven calendar days of an absence and fit notes can be handwritten or printed, but must always be signed by a doctor.

Professor Sayeed Khan, chief medical officer of EEF (pictured), said: “The guidance points out that an employee can go back to work at any time (including before the end of the fit note) without going back to see their doctor, even if their doctor has indicated that they need to assess them again. That is really quite important.”