Fitness for work notes - a guide for managers


From 6 April 2010, the sick note is changing to become a fit note. The sick notes that you are currently familiar with (or Medical Statement) are the forms issued by doctors to people when they are ill or injured. They provide advice about whether or not an individual with a medical condition is fit for work.

Many people with health conditions can, with some support from their employer, work as they recover from their illness. This helps the individual because for many people work can help recovery and also benefits the employer by reducing sickness absence; in current practice this is usually encapsulated within a ‘return to work’ plan.

Under the sick note system, doctors could only advise their patient on whether their health condition meant that they should not work. As a result many people, who could benefit from support whilst in work, would be advised that they could not work and their employers would not have had the opportunity to consider how they could help them achieve an earlier return to work.

To help more people get the support the need to get back to work, the new fit note system will mean that doctors can advise that a Brookes employee is either:

  • unfit for work; or
  • may be fit for wor

A doctor will give a ‘may be fit for work’ statement if they think that their patient’s health condition may allow them to work if they get suitable support from their employer. If an employee is too ill to work, the doctor will advise this, just like with the current sick note.

In practice

The aim of the new regulations is to reduce sickness absence and support people with health conditions to stay in or return to work. It is hoped that the new approach will help inform discussions between individuals and their employers about whether there are any temporary changes to the work environment or role which could aid an earlier return to work.

GPs will be expected to give some generic advice, for example, general details of the functional effects of the individual’s condition. They will also have the option to indicate where their patient may benefit from common types of changes such as:

  • a phased return to work
  • altered hours
  • amended duties
  • workplace adaptations.

The maximum duration a medical statement can be issued for will reduce from 6 months to 3 months during the first six months of their health condition.

It is important to note that the GP’s advice is not binding and if no adjustments can be made then the note will stand as a sick note.

Many of our current practices will remain the same. Managers will continue to be informed by employees as soon as they are unfit for work, as per University policy. Managers are currently encouraged to maintain contact with any of their staff who are absent due to ill health and informally discuss their progress, likely duration of absence, possible return to work date and what, if any, measures may be needed to help support their member of staff when they return. This will not change.

The GPs advice will be the basis for a discussion with the individual on how best the University can support a return to work. The new scheme is very much focussed on longer term absence and the management of short term absence remains the same.

The occupational sick pay scheme we have at Brookes will remain unchanged and the Managing absence from work due to ill health policy will be updated and some new guidance for line managers in the section Managerial responsibilities for managing ill-health absence will be provided.

Guidance for line managers

After seven calendar days (including Saturdays and Sundays), the employee must obtain a doctors certificate and forward it to the Line Manager or Faculty/Directorate Administrator. When the manager receives one of these new notes it will either state ‘you are not fit for work’ or ‘you may be fit for work taking account of the following advice’.

If the line manager receives a statement stating ‘you may be fit for work’ they should discuss with the employee whether they can return to work despite their illness or injury. The line manager should consider the GP’s comments and discuss these with the employee and if they think it appropriate discuss with the People Directorate and/or make a formal management referral to Occupational Health.

If a return to work is possible the line manager should agree any temporary changes to the job role or hours and what support will be provided and for how long. This arrangement can be agreed between the line manager and the individual without any other parties involved if they feel it appropriate. Managers already have this discretion but should also be reassured that they are not expected to make medically informed decisions. It is to encourage managers to discuss simple and often common sense, short term adjustments to the work place for a member of their staff returning from sickness absence. Where adjustments may have to reflect long term underlying medical conditions, disability or may be medium term duration or longer, manager’s will continue to consider the People Directorate and Occupational Health for guidance and support.

If an Occupational Health appointment is scheduled for the future then the line manager may wish to agree a short term variation to the job role, based on the advice from the GP, until the OHA can make further recommendations.

Updated April 2010