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Keeping Fit - A Review of Fit Notes

How is the New Note Working?


So-called fit notes have been in place for a while now, having replaced the traditional GPs sick note.


An employees doctor certifies them either fit, unfit or maybe fit for work, the intention being to focus on levels of wellness rather than sickness and encourage conversations between employer and employee on the return to work and, where helpful, agreeing arrangements for phased returns after long-term absence.


The latest CIPD annual absence management report provides a picture of how well the approach is working.


It may be early days yet but the results are tepid to say the least. Less than a third of employers agreed that the fit note helps managers to manage absence more effectively, with there being less enthusiasm for the new arrangements in SMEs. Furthermore, a mere 11% of respondents said the fit note had reduced absence in their organisation.


Dr Jill Miller, CIPD Adviser, says: Our research reveals the value fit notes can have in promoting good quality conversations between managers and their employees, which has a positive impact on the management of absence.


However, the survey suggests the fit note has yet to have a real impact on reducing absence levels. With the future in mind, Dr Miller went on to predict, it may well take five years or so before the fit note is consistently used effectively and viewed more favourably by GPs, employers and employees, to support early and lasting returns to work.


So how is your management of absence due to illness structured, focussed and supportive or lax, inconsistent and occasionally bullish?


The basics are always worth revisiting and here a couple of key points for managers to keep in mind:


1) Managers are not doctors

Even if you do happen to be medically-qualified, you're not being paid to pronounce on employee health. So, bottom line, whatever your opinion keep it to yourself. It's a waste of time disagreeing with the GP and other specialists and should the worst happen, a tribunal won favour your views over theirs. Stick to what is within your remit: the level and frequency of absence and the impact it has on the workplace.


2) Managing absence is never personal

Whatever you think of the poorly individual, whatever your privately-held opinion of their illness (see point #1 above), keep it objective, follow the agreed procedures.



The basic principle is that any business cannot indefinitely afford to pay people not to be at work.



Hence a policy of supporting people to return as soon as their health allows. And if, over time, a person is too ill to be at work doing the job they were recruited to, then it's not their fault; equally an employer may need to regretfully either find them different work that they can do, or let them go completely.



Nothing personal, just objective circumstances.


So, when managing absence, do be supportive and flexible, but don't lose objectivity and your grasp of the wider picture. Have clear, fair procedures in place and then follow them.


The full CIPD/Simply Health survey report is available free on registration (also free) at the CIPD website.

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