Updated Fit Note Guidance for Employers

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has released updated guidance for employers and line managers regarding fit notes, also known as “Statements of Fitness for Work.” These notes play a crucial role in addressing employees’ health conditions and their impact on work.

To assist employers and line managers, the DWP guidance offers

What the Guidance Reveals

A review of the updated DWP guidance and its frequently asked questions offers a valuable refresher on fit note basics and offers some solutions to practical challenges businesses and line managers can often face managing employee absence:

  • Employees can self-certify for the first seven calendar days of sickness absence. Beyond this, entitlement to SSP (in addition to any employer’s sickness absence policy) depends on a valid sick note. The guidance clarifies that, in most cases, there’s no need to sign someone back into or “fit for” work which can be a common misapprehension.
  • Fit notes indicate whether the employee “may be fit for work” or “not fit for work.” The former should provide advice on what the employee can undertake for the employer to consider, ideally in consultation with the employee. If accommodations enabling work cannot be made, the employee is then deemed as unfit for work and entitled to SSP (and any occupational sick pay) as if the fit note had certified them “not fit for work”.
  • The guidance underscores that fit notes can only be issued for medical issues. For non-medical problems affecting an employee’s life and work, employers can offer additional support, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

The recent updates emphasise temporary changes employers should consider, especially when an employee is deemed “may be fit for work.” Helpfully the new case studies focus on exploring adjustments to facilitate a return to work which may act as a useful source of guidance or information for those responsible for directly managing employees.

Employers are not obligated to follow fit note suggestions (relating to those certified as “may be fit for work”) if they cannot accommodate them. However, this decision should not be taken lightly. Creatively addressing an employee’s potential return to work benefits both the employer and employee, as it can lead to cost savings for the business where the employee can contribute partially (if not fully) in the workplace and can improve an employee’s recovery and well-being.

Reasonable Adjustments

If an absence is due to a disability, the employer is obliged to consider making reasonable adjustments. Properly considering suggestions on a fit note will therefore be crucial to mitigating risks around discrimination claims. The updated guidance provides a list of potential changes to consider, but what is appropriate varies depending on the organisation, roles, and individual circumstances.

Case studies

The new case studies emphasise the importance of health and work discussions and the fit note’s role as a “catalyst for conversations about the employee’s health or adjustments during the return to work or stay in work process.” Communication and collaboration are highlighted as being key to effectively managing sickness absence.

It should be noted that the information provided in fit notes is just one aspect of managing employee sickness absence. Other factors to consider, such as additional input from occupational health or detailed medical advice, will depend on various circumstances including the duration of absence and its impact on work.

Employers should remember that by understanding and using these updated guidelines in conjunction with other sources of information on employee health, employers and line managers can more effectively manage absence and returns to work and ensure employee well-being and legal compliance.

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