Could fit notes (not sick notes) save UK plc £240m?

The introduction of the new 'fit note' should hopefully make it much easier to manage sickness absence.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Not before time, the Government is launching a shake-up of the sickness absence rules. As of April, the old-fashioned ‘sick note’ will be replaced by a ‘fit note’ – so the focus will be on what staff can do, rather than what they can’t. The theory is that this will be a win-win: it’s good for staff, since work is generally considered to be good for your health, and it’s good for employers, since they’ll lose less time to sickness absence. In fact, it could save UK firms up to £240m over the next decade, according to the Government’s own sums. Bad news for the work-shy, though…

The Department for Work and Pensions has just published its guidance notes on the new ‘Statement of Fitness of Work’, which will be introduced on April 6. The idea is that instead of writing people a sick note that allows them to stay off work, doctors will be encouraged to say what they are actually capable of doing – for instance, whether they might be able to go back to work but with fewer hours or different duties. It’s all been developed in conjunction with a raft of business groups, including the CBI, the CIPD and the Federation of Small Businesses, so it’s very employer-friendly.

Evidence suggests that the longer people stay off work sick, the less likely they are to come back. So the emphasis will apparently be on ‘making simple, practical adjustments to help people back to work at an earlier stage’ – which in most cases, ‘can be achieved at no or low cost to the employer.’ For SMEs in particular (who are also getting a new dedicated occupational health advice line), managing long-term sickness is a huge burden, both financially and in terms of lost expertise. So anything that can be done to mitigate this has to be a good thing.

Amusingly, the DWP has also been keen to stress that this is just as much for the benefit of staff as employers. While we can well believe the conclusions of Dame Carol Black’s recent review - that working people tend to be healthier people - we’re not sure if anyone’s going to buy the Government’s suggestion that this is really a supportive move for struggling staff; there’s a lot more stick than carrot going on here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that...

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Could fit notes (not sick notes) save UK plc £240m?
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