Extension to who can provide a ‘fit note’

Louise Walker
Louise Walker
Legal Director
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Employers can ask staff who are absent from work due to illness for more than 7 days to provide them with a ‘fit note’ explaining the reason and likely duration of their absence. Until recently, almost all fit notes have been provided by GPs, who have been understandably stretched in recent months. Although the government allowed fit notes to be signed digitally (rather than in pen and ink) earlier in April this year in an attempt to free up GP time, further recent changes to the law go further and have substantially widened the type of healthcare professionals who can sign off on a fit note for employees who are off work.

From 1 July 2022, Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Pharmacists, and Physiotherapists can all legally certify and issue fit notes for staff. This development has been welcomed by the BMA which says it is an ‘absolutely vital’ step to reduce ‘unnecessary administration and bureaucracy, while taking a more flexible and pragmatic approach to patient services’. From an employer’s perspective it seems likely that any change which makes it easier for an employee to get a fit note could increase the number of fit notes employers receive.

Although employers are entitled to take a fit note as evidence of a patient’s incapacity, where an employee remains off work for more than a few weeks, or if an employer becomes aware that an member of staff might be living with an ongoing medical issue which could have an impact on their fitness for work, they should still consider whether it might be sensible to make an occupational health referral for that employee. An increase in the number of ‘sick notes’ employers receive could therefore also lead to greater use of occupational health referrals. Occupational health referrals can usually be made reasonably swiftly and cheaply, and can give employers much greater insight into the employee’s condition and prospects for returning to work than standard ‘fit notes’. If there is a risk that an employee might be suffering from an underlying physical or mental impairment which could amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010, an occupational health referral can also provide useful evidence and guidance for the employer when considering whether it has any legal duty to make adjustments to take account of any disability, and if so, what sort of adjustments might be appropriate (including any needed to internal processes such as any absence management process).

Government guidance on fit notes is available here.

If you have any questions about employee absence or any other employment law matters further, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team on 0141 331 5150.

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