27th September 2019


 Issue No.  2019/15



Fit for Work Again?

We are regularly asked about employees returning to work following a period of absence covered by a medical certificate and whether the employee concerned should provide something from their GP confirming that they are now ‘fit for work’ - the so called ‘Fit Note’
What is a fit note?
A fit note is a statement of fitness for work. It is given by a GP or hospital doctor which gives details of the illness/injury and indicates that the employee is unfit for work either for a number of weeks or between specified dates.  It may also indicate whether the employee could be able to return to work if temporary workplace adjustments are made.
Any suggestion that temporary workplace adjustments are possible is just that - a suggestion by the doctor intended to start a discussion between the employee and employer.  If the suggestion is feasible for both parties then the employee may return to work sooner than the ‘Fit Note’ indicates.  If not, then the employee should remain absent from work until the end of the recommended period and is able to return to their full duties. There is no obligation on the employer to accept the suggestions from the GP.
Return to Work date?
The employee will normally return to work once the period of incapacity has passed and they are well again.
The ‘Fit Note’ also includes (when completed) a comment that the doctor ‘will’ or ‘will not’ need to see the patient again prior to the expiry of the period of sickness.  ‘Will’ indicates that the GP is unsure as whether or not the patient is going to be fully recovered at the end of the specified period and wants to re-examine them to establish this.  ‘Will not’ indicates that they do expect the patient to be well enough to return to work.
However, the governments document ‘Getting the most out of the fit note’ states ‘Your employee can come back to work at any time, even if this is before their fit note expires. They do not need to go back to their doctor first’.  This can put the employer in a difficult position.
In many cases the employee simply wants to get back to work or they are struggling to get by on SSP payments alone.   Ultimately if an employee insists they are well enough to return to work there is little option other than to allow this.  As the employer, whilst you can allow the employee to return to work before the expiry of the period covered by the note, you should not do so without taking steps to ensure that this is appropriate.
You should discuss this with them and satisfy yourself that returning to work will not exacerbate the employee's illness, slow their recovery or put other employees at risk. You should keep a record of the discussion and the reasons for your decision and consider carrying out a risk assessment before allowing the employee back to work; this may be required under the terms of your employer's liability insurance.
Where medical clarity is required ask the employee for consent to contact their GP for a medical report or refer them to Occupational health.
Remember also that ‘Fit notes’ are not just exclusively from the UK. You may get a ‘fit note’ from other countries. These can also be accepted and treated in the same way as a fit note.    With an overseas fit note, there should be a contact number of the medical centre that the employer can contact for further information (you may need to get such a medical certificate translated).
It is your decision whether evidence of illness is required, and if so, what evidence is acceptable.
As well as a doctor’s fit note your employee may give you a certificate from someone who is not a GP or who is an Allied Health Professional (AHP) such as: 

  • Osteopaths
  • Chiropractors
  • Physiotherapists
  • Dieticians
  • Acupuncturists

The Gov.UK web site suggests this would be strong evidence of sickness and is usually acceptable however also states that it is for you decide whether or not to accept such a certificate and if you have any doubts you can still ask for a doctor’s fit note.  This latter approach would be our usual advice.





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