Mixed Diagnosis for Fit Notes

The introduction of “Fit notes” which were designed to get those on long term sick back to work sooner are having only a modest impact on getting the region’s sick employees back to work sooner.

That’s the view of Roythornes Phil Cookson, who was commenting on research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development which showed that only 11% of employers considered they had helped to reduce absence rates. The one “benefit” of the notes though, according to the research was that just over half of the employers thought they had helped to start conversations with sick employees.

Fit notes were introduced in April 2010 in an attempt to turn around the ‘sick note’ of long term sickness absence. Rather than signing employees off from work, GP’s now have to advise on what work the employee could undertake, suggesting adaptations to the workplace or working hours if necessary. The intention is that it will get people back to work sooner, and reduce the number of long term sick employees. The problem in practice seems to be GP’s continuing in their role as “patient advocate” and suggested adaptations from GP’s often being seen by employers as either unworkable in practice or too vague to be of real assistance.

Commenting on the research, Phil who head up the firms Peterborough Employment team said:

“Most of the employers I deal with view these notes with a high level of cynicism and they readily complain that no real difference has occurred. The one silver lining is the opportunity to discuss a phased return with employees which seems to be supported y the research.

Phil went on to say that they key to managing sickness absences is communication and understanding between the employer and their workforce:

“Employers must have the culture where they can discuss these issues openly with their employees. The management of absenteeism levels is more important than ever whilst we face the current economic difficulties. Whilst no-one wants to force a sick person back to work, the overall impact of long term absenteeism can be significant and therefore the idea of talking to employees to agree a phased return is a good one which should be encouraged.”