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The launch of the new "Fit notes" rather than "Sick notes"

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It is widely accepted that the current system of GPs providing sick notes to employees certifying sickness absence is in drastic need of reform. This month, the Government is launching “fit notes” to replace the “sick notes” we have all been used to. 

The Government has published its’ response to consultation on “fit notes” that are set to replace sick notes.  The Social Security (Medical Evidence) and the Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 are intended to come into force on 6th April 2010 despite concerns that this will not allow time for GPs as well as Employers to familiarise themselves with the new “fit notes”.

A huge number of employers are adversely impacted by sick leave amongst their workforce. There is a widely held view that employees are able to obtain sick notes very easily from their GP. The cost to your business of sickness absence can be in many forms; the cost of wages, indirect costs eg:  temporary staff, hidden costs eg:  dissatisfied customers, disgruntled staff eg: having to do someone else’s work and the culture of a “soft” approach to sickness absence.

To give you an example of the direct financial cost to a business, the average UK worker takes ten days sick per year.  If your business has sixty employees and are paid the average weekly wage of £350 a week then the direct cost of paying employees in full whilst they are off sick , if all your employees were off for 10 days each , is £42,000 per annum. Not something to be taken lightly at all.

“Fit” notes will be much more detailed than the current sick notes and provide employers with much more information in relation to an employee’s illness, including whether or not they are capable of doing some work (although the employee may be unable to fulfil their normal duties).

Under the new system

The ‘fit note’ will list common changes which could be made to an employee’s work environment or job role to help facilitate a return to work.  Where a doctor considers another option is more appropriate, he or she will have the opportunity to state this in the comments box.

The maximum duration a medical statement can be issued for will be reduced from six to three months during the first six months of a health condition.          

The Government intends that specific guidance for individuals, employers and healthcare professionals will be available shortly.  There will also be a communications campaign to ensure awareness of the changes.           

A Government evaluation of the new medical statement will be published in 2012/13.  This will commission new qualitative and quantitative research, supplemented by sickness absence data and other quantitative survey data covering the areas of health and work from 12 months after implementation.  The evaluation will consider the impact on different regions and on different illnesses and disabilities where possible, as well as impact by gender, age and race.

If you would like to know more about what you can do to manage sickness absence, including monitoring and reporting and sickness absence policies, please do not hesitate to contact Neil Largan in the employment law team at Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors on 01904 624185.

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