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The fit note is a contentious issue, and not just for employers and the people who work for them. A 2013 DWP survey suggested that over 75 per cent of GPs felt obliged to issue fit notes for issues that were not strictly medical. The same survey revealed a substantial number of doctors to be feeling that they were equipped to deal with their patients’ work issues.
More recently the government revealed plans to have GPs refer patients to a third party organisation for assessment and in order to plan their return to work. The BMA has voiced its doubts, while business leaders have made it clear that they think it would only work if compulsory.
When it was first introduced in 2010, the fit note was designed to encourage a more positive, pro-active response to employee illness. With the emphasis on fitness for work, the fit note give doctors the option to record someone as fit for work if certain conditions are met. Employers can then make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to facilitate the employee’s phased return to active work.
The reality of the situation seems not to bear this out. In many instances, the fit note simply seems to have replaced the old, contentious sick note with much the same negative impact.
The solution has to lie in positive engagement and in fostering a workplace culture that is firm but supportive to employees. Acas points out that its Fit for Work and Return to Work plans look at alternatives in getting employees back into work. The fit note shouldn’t simply be an administrative exercise, but instead part of a positive process of staff engagement.
For employers to successfully manage this process they may require professional help and guidance. But in the same spirit of having technical expertise and support for IT, why wouldn’t you consider the equivalent when it comes to the welfare of your staff and, ultimately, your business?
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