+44 (0) 1332 866610 enquiries@precepthr.com

Weekly blog: Don’t worry please: updated fit note guidance

Hello all. Philip Pearson-Batt coming at you with our latest blog!

You may have noticed we’ve been a bit quiet on the old blog front recently but that is just because exciting things have been happening at Precept: the family is growing!

You will no doubt have seen this all over our LinkedIn but it really is important that we shout about it so let me recap…

First and foremost, our wonderful Robyn Smith and her husband James welcomed little Halle to the family earlier in October. I am 100% certain you will agree that she is the cutest member of team Precept and we cannot wait to see all that she is going achieve. Congratulations to Robyn and James!

Welcome Halle!

Second, we’ve had another new addition to the Precept family recently – a shiny, fancy-schmancy award: Small Business of the Year at the recent Businessmasters.uk East Midlands Business Masters awards.

I know everybody says that they don’t expect to win, but we genuinely didn’t: Rob Tice looked like he was about to collapse with pride and Emma Tice about knocked over half the tables to get on the stage. This award is testament to not only all the great work that we do at Precept but to the generally exceptional environment that Emma and Rob have created here (hoping I can sneak this in because they need to big themselves up!)

Precept are Small Business of the Year 2023

From here on out, it’s onwards and upwards for Team Precept!

This will be the last blog you will have from me for a few weeks. Finally, the time has come for me to stop harping on about my honeymoon and actually go! New Zealand is fast (24 hour flight… ugh) approaching and I will be out of the office for the whole of November (woohoo!) You will no doubt all be bored to death of hearing about it when I get back.

Please be gentle with Emma and Rob whilst I’m away!

But before I go, I do still have a job to do.

You’ll remember – won’t you? – that we shared with you some shocking stats on high levels of sickness absence recently? Studies have shown that, on average, staff took 7.8 days sick days in the past year, with the most common reasons for absence being Covid, stress and the cost-of-living crisis. We think the situation isn’t as black and white as all that and you’ll have some staff who are on very long-term sick vs. some who never take a day sick. We’ve shared with you some tips and tricks on managing sickness absence which you’ll find on our LinkedIn feed or website (for example: https://precepthr.com/3-cough-2-splutter-1-croak-action/)

The government have also tried to help employers by updating their guidance on fit notes. The updated guidance can be found here: Fit note: guidance for employers and line managers – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fit-note-guidance-for-employers-and-line-managers

Remember, fit notes (or sick notes as some call them) are used to record the details of how an employee’s ability to work is impacted by their health. Essentially, they’re evidence that somebody is not fit to work. Traditionally, they were physical documents but recently we’ve seen an increase in fit notes being issued electronically and those who can sign them off has also been expanded. It no longer needs to be a GP it can be a nurse, occupational therapist, physiotherapist or pharmacist.

The Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP, did you spot that in my title?) latest guidance doesn’t make any big changes to the fit note regime but it does now include some extra detail about how fit notes are completed. It also provides employers with six case studies for how sickness absence should be dealt with and (actually a little bit helpfully) provides a checklist which aims to support discussions between employers and employees when a fit note is issued.

For what it’s worth, we would suggest the following:

  • Have a clear policy on sickness absence reporting;
  • Request fit notes promptly. Employees should be providing them to you where their absence due to illness lasts for more than seven calendar days. You need to be proactive and consistent in the way that you ask for fit notes.
  • When you get a fit note, review it carefully. If the person who has signed the fit note has said staff “may be fit for work”, you’ve got to assess whether or not the recommended actions are reasonable. If they are, you’d be well advised to put them in place. If they aren’t, the member of staff should be treated as being unfit for work.
  • Where you receive a number of fit notes from one employee, consider them in their totality. Is there a pattern of absence? Is there some sort of underlying problem here – whether that be a health condition, which might be a disability, or something else (like them avoiding difficult problems at work or a breakdown in the working relationship?)
  • Keep in touch with staff when they’re signed off. Don’t just think “out of sight, out of mind”. It all comes back to being proactive. If you have regular contact with staff you’ll be able to get a better understanding of whether they’re likely to be able to come back or not. You can then start your processes quick sharp. Staff who are just forgotten about, often stay off sick longer.
  • Remember, whilst there’s no formal requirement for employees to be signed back to work by a healthcare professional, if their fit note is still active you should be extremely careful about having them back in work without something from a healthcare professional saying it’s ok. If you do have somebody working where there’s evidence they are not fit to work, this could impact your insurance and (heaven forbid) if something should go wrong, you could be exposed to a personal injury claim.

If there’s one thing to take away from all this, it’s all about being proactive. Leaving something to linger just makes it worse (like packing your suitcase for a month long trip…)

If you’ve got a sticky one and aren’t sure about the best way to be proactive, give Precept a call and we’ll use our expert and practical knowledge to talk you through what you should be doing.

That’s all for now (for a month) folks!