If an individual is absent from work for more than seven consecutive days due to illness, this needs to be certified through a statement of fitness for work (fit note), formerly known as a ‘sick note’ and provided to their employer as evidence of their absence.
Until July 2022, only doctors (registered medical practitioners) were legally authorised to certify fit notes. However, on 1st July 2022, new legislation came into force which allows nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists to also legally certify fit notes.
What is the purpose of a fit note?
A fit note is a form of medical evidence of the advice a health care professional has provided regarding an individual’s fitness for work.
The health care professional may determine the individual to be ‘not fit for work’ or ‘might be fit for work.’ If the latter is determined then the health care professional can provide guidance on the work that they believe the individual is capable of doing or how the employer can assist the individual in getting back to work by implementing changes such as allowing flexible working hours. If no agreement can be reached on the changes to be made to assist the individual in returning to work then the employee is deemed to be ‘not fit for work’ for the purposes of a fit note.
Failure to provide a fit note to an employer when an employee has been absent from work due to sickness for more than seven consecutive days may entitle an employer to withhold the employee’s contractual sick pay or statutory sick pay.
Why have changes been made to the legislation?
This is not the first attempt by the government to increase flexibility in obtaining fit notes. From 6th April 2022, legislation came into force which removed the requirement for fit notes to be signed in wet ink by the authoriser. It is now the case that a health care professional who certifies the fit note can issue and sign digitally rather than requiring a wet ink signature, making the process of obtaining a fit note more efficient and simpler for all parties involved.
One of the main reasons that the scope of individuals that are permitted to authorise fit notes has been extended is to reduce the demand for GP appointments. Following COVID-19 and the consequent strain on NHS resources, the amended legislation will reduce the need for individuals to request an appointment with their GP to request a fit note, thus freeing up more appointments for patients in need. As further explained by, Maria Caulfield MP: “improving access to GP services and reducing unnecessary bureaucracy is vitally important as we tackle the Covid backlog.”
It is important that employers are aware of the updates to the legislation as they will need to review and possibly update, for example, their sickness policies in order to reflect the fact that fit notes can now be authorised by health care professionals rather than just GPs. If you require advice and assistance on how the new legislation may affect you, please contact our experienced Employment Law and HR team on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry online.