What the new 'fit note' means for bosses

Roger SpenceBusinesses need to be aware of several new changes to employment law - including the introduction of “fit notes” to replace “sick notes” - which came into force on April 6 will impact on businesses across the county.

The biggest change is the introduction of new fit notes, which intend to focus on what can be done to assist a return to work and prompt useful discussions between a patient and their GP and the employer and employee.

In essence, workers who are off sick will now receive fit notes instead of sick notes. On the fit note, GPs will have one of two options: “not fit for work” or “may be fit for work taking account of the following advice”.

GPs will then be able to highlight aspects of the job that the worker can still carry out or changes which may assist a return to work.

For employers the new fit notes will only be of limited assistance as they shift the onus from the doctor to the employer to consider whether changes can be made which will help staff return to work in some capacity.

If a GP decides their patient is capable of some form of work, then it will be down to the employer to consider whether it can be flexible enough to accommodate them. Therefore, businesses and particularly line managers will need to know about these new obligations and how they will affect their organisations.

From 6 April 2010 staff working for businesses with more than 250 employees have the right to request time off for study or training under the Government’s initiative called Time to Train. The right will be made available to all employees from April next year.

New regulations also provide additional paternity leave and pay to fathers of babies born, and adoptive parents notified of a match, on or after April 3, 2011. Eligible employees will have the right to take up to 26 weeks’ paid paternity leave, if the mother or primary adopter returns to work early.

Despite the limitations mentioned above, on balance employers will welcome the new computerised fit notes.

While phased introduction of the new legislation on training and paternity leave will give organisations some time to prepare, these new rights involve additional costs for employers at a time when the economy is struggling out of recession.

Therefore, it is vital for businesses to ensure their policies and procedures are bang up-to-date to avoid falling foul of the law.

Roger Spence, Harrison Drury.