The Department for Work and Pensions (“DWP”) updated its Guidance on Fit Notes for Employers and Line Managers on 6 October 2023, which includes changes to the guidance, the addition of an employer’s checklist and helpful case studies.
The Statement of Fitness for Work, commonly referred to as the “fit note” records important information relating to an employee’s health condition and the impact on their ability to work. Employees who are off sick for more than seven days are required to provide a fit note to their employer.
The guidance was updated to cover the changes introduced by The Social Security (Medical Evidence) and Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) (Amendment) (No 2) Regulations 2022, which include:
- Digital Authorisation
Fit notes can be authorised digitally which would contain the name of the healthcare professional that provided it, replacing the traditional ink signature on fit notes.
It is important to note that employees could still be issued with the previous version of a fit note which is still legally valid, as some GP IT practices, and hospital systems may not have been updated yet.
- Certifying Healthcare Professionals
The burden on doctors have been reduced, as nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists are authorised to issue fit notes. This should also make obtaining fit notes easier and quicker for employees, whilst enabling employees to see the most relevant healthcare professional.
The changes are intended to make the fit note process more accessible, quicker and simpler. In line with these changes, employers may need to consider and amend their sickness policies, handbooks and sickness provisions in employment contracts with regards to fit notes. For instance, if an employer’s policy specifically requires the fit note “to be signed by a doctor”, that should be amended to take into account the digitally authorised fit notes that can be issued by other medical professionals in line with the guidance.
In addition to the updates, the DWP released a checklist for employers to better facilitate discussions with their employees on whether any health-related adjustments could be made to encourage and support the employee to remain in or return to work. The checklist can be found here: Fit note: Checklist for employers (publishing.service.gov.uk).
Employers and employees may also benefit from reading through the case studies which provide helpful scenarios and examples of the adjustments employers could make for their employees to remain in or return to work. The case studies can be found here: Annex C – Case studies – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
Employers are advised to ensure they treat the issue of sickness absence, sick pay, and sickness reporting fairly and with care, given the rights of employees in respect of disability related claims (including an employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments), sick pay procedures, and the employee’s express and implied contractual rights. Failure to do so, could also lead to potential arguments of disability discrimination from employees as well (depending on the nature of the individual employee’s sickness and whether the employee’s sickness arises from a long-term or recurring issue).
The current framework could be changed this autumn, which should be followed by a further update pending confirmation from the Government. Please keep an eye out for more on that on our website!
Whether you’re an employer looking to ensure your policies and procedures are compliant with the latest changes or if you’re an employee that would like specific advice or assistance in respect of the above, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist employment team: firstname.lastname@example.org.