Leading Lawyer Welcomes Introduction Of 'Fit Notes'
One of the region's leading employment lawyers has welcomed the introduction of 'fit notes' for employees who are on sick leave, believing it will bring a significant reduction in the level of absenteeism in the workplace.
From 6 April 2010 the Government will introduce a new system, the 'Statement of Fitness for Work', which will replace the current 'sick note' and feature a new designation of 'May be fit for work taking account of the following advice' and go on to specify what that advice is. This will replace the unspecified 'May be fit for some work'.
In addition, the maximum duration for which a medical statement can be issued will be reduced from six months to three months during the first six months of a medical condition.
The Government has predicted that the fit note will save the UK around £240 billion in costs associated with absenteeism, and that it will also bring large savings to British taxpayers.
Simon Coates, Head of Employment law at Irwin Mitchell in Sheffield, said: "Every year there are 175 million working days lost through sick leave and absenteeism, with approximately three per cent of the working population off sick at any one time.
"This costs the taxpayer around £60 billion each year, before factoring in the cost of the additional stresses and strains placed on employers and employees trying to cover for absent colleagues. Fit notes will reduce these costs by getting people back to some form of work as soon as they are able to return."
The fit note will feature information from the employee's doctor detailing how the patient’s medical condition impacts upon the ability to meet the demands of the role, and also allows the doctor to suggest what could be done to help the employee to resume work.
Coates continued: "The emphasis will be on getting absent employees back work in whatever capacity they are able to return, and there are a variety of ways this can be done.
"These include a gradual return – rather like a footballer who plays part of a game while building up match fitness levels - amended working hours, changes to the working environment itself or adjusting the activities expected of an employee.
"It could be that after seeing a doctor an employee is still not fit for work, in which case the fit note will be used much as the previous 'sick note'.
"The objective of the change is not to force people to return to work before they are ready, but to encourage people who have been absent from the workplace to engage in more constructive dialogue with doctors and employers about how they could return to work. The emphasis will be on what employees can do, rather than what they can not."