Sick Note Given Indefinite Leave of Absence

Last Updated Apr 6, 2010 7:10 AM EDT

From today, Doctors will no longer write out 'sick notes' for employees who feel they have to stay away from work for health reasons and start writing 'statements of fitness for work'. The fit note will now be used to define whether an employee should stay away from work and is eligible to receive Statutory Sick Pay.

The biggest change is employees are no longer signed off as fit for work, but as may be fit for work, with detailed provisos about what the employer needs to do for them when they return. This may involve different duties, or amended hours of work.

It may mean that an employee, who has taken seven calendar days off work, should make a phased return to work, gradually increasing days back or taking on more duties over a period of time.

For GPs, this is a big change in their part of the process and they will have to be a lot more involved in the reasons why an employee cannot go in to work. For employers, it also means that they will be expected to pay closer attention to an employee's working conditions, as they return to work.
The British Medical Association, which represents the views of GPs, is anxious that its members don't have more responsibility than they can cope with sat in their lap over this issue. It stresses that GPs are not qualified occupational health specialists and has called for an education campaign so that employers are dispelled of some of the myths around qualifying for time off work due to ill health.

Employees too need to be made aware that, even though this is an effort to claw back some of the £100bn a year worth of lost productivity to the economy, the change should put the onus on their employers to take their concerns about returning to work after ill-health more seriously.

  • The biggest benefit for the employee is that their return to work should feel a lot smoother, rather than being unfit for work and then being declared fit to do the same job that probably contributed to their absence.
  • For employees, it means that an impartial third party has to discuss with them the reasons why they had to take time off. Currently, only one worker in eight has access to an occupational health professional, according to the BMA.
  • Employees, especially line managers can see this change as an opportunity to get issues such as flexible working on the agenda with a senior management that may only be willing to pay new working practices lip-service.
  • Hopefully, getting employees back to work, even on a phased basis will improve morale and productivity -- and ultimately the profitability -- of the organisation.
For a very good explanation of what the statement of fitness for work, check out this guide provided by Business Link.
(Pic: a.drian cc2.0)