The odds are that it won’t affect your business very much, if at all. The new fit notes, formally known as statements of fitness for work, won’t deter your staff from pulling a one or two-day sickie, as it only applies to those off for longer than seven days.
So why the change? The goal is to try and cut the number of people claiming sickness benefits.
As of the end of March there were 2.5m people receiving Incapacity Benefit, and ministers hope that overhauling the sick note – issued by doctors to their patients for Statutory Sick Pay and social security benefit purposes – will help reduce this figure, saving the economy an estimated £240m over the next ten years.
The fit notes will offer advice for employers on how they can make adjustments that may allow employees to return to work.
The government felt that the old sick note was inflexible as GPs could only say whether they thought their patient was fit or unfit for work – there was no scope within it for the GP to suggest that, subject to some workplace alterations (such as a different role or shorter hours), the employee might be fit for some type of work.
“The fit note will reduce the costs employers often have to bear when people are off sick for a long time,” explains Lord McKenzie, minister at the Department for Work and Pensions.
“We know work is good for people’s health. With the right support in place, employers and doctors can work with employees to help them get back to work sooner.”
However, the jury is still out as to whether the new fit note will be useful to employers or not.
“It will be interesting to see how fit notes work out in practice,” says Suzanne Caldwell of the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce. “They should mean people get back to work more quickly, with a focus on ability to work – on what people can do, rather than on what they can’t.”
But Caldwell warns that although that’s great, employers will often have to make adjustments in terms of working hours, phased return, amended duties, etc if people are to get back to work.
“That opens up a whole set of challenges, and those adjustments may just not be feasible, especially for smaller employers, which has to be a cause for concern.”
Are you worried about the new fit note? Do you think this is a good thing? Leave your comments below. If you’re still confused about the new law, you can find out more here.
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