Understanding the fit note

Introduced in April 2010 the fit note (or Statement of Fitness for Work) is the form issued by Doctors to people when they are ill or injured. The fit note, which is usually required for absences of more than seven days, is a record of advice from your employee’s doctor. It is not legally binding for you or your employee.

Why was the fit note introduced?

Studies have shown that being out of work is bad for your health, and that your chances of returning to work decrease the longer you are on sick leave.

The sooner your employee returns to work after illness or injury, the more beneficial it will be for them, both mentally and physically.

Many employees who are off work could potentially return to work sooner if you make reasonable adjustments within your workplace.

What’s included in a fit note?

The fit note system means that doctors can recommend that a person ‘may’ be fit for work, rather than stating conclusively that a person is or isn’t fit to work.

As well as recommending whether someone may be fit to work, the fit note allows GPs to give general advice about the impact of their patients’ (and your employees’) health issues and how they may affect what they can do at work.

GPs can also use the fit note to suggest common ways for you to support your employees’ return to work.

If work may be a contributing factor to your employees’ sickness absence, they may also recommend an occupational health assessment. See the Fit for Work website for information about referring your employees for free occupational health assessments through Fit for Work.

What should I do if my employee ‘may’ be fit for work?

Where a person is assessed as potentially fit for work a GP will provide guidance on how you can support their return to work.

This could include:

  • a phased return to work;
  • amended duties;
  • reduced, or altered hours, to ease their work-life balance;
  • workplace adjustments – such as modified workstations or adjustments to premises.

Although the GP’s recommendations are likely to help your employee return to work and reduce unnecessary sickness absence, you are not legally obliged to accept them.

If you can’t make the suggested changes, or choose not to make them, your employee should treat the fit note as if it said they are not fit for work.

See government guidance notes here