Who can sign a Fit Note?
From 1 July 2022, the government has announced that the category of people who can sign statements of fitness for work, or “fit notes”, for the purposes of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and social security claims, is to be expanded. The change will now allow registered nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists to sign these statements. Presently, only doctors can do this.
What role do fit notes have?
Generally, after the first seven days of a period of sickness absence, an employer may insist that a fit note or other reasonable evidence is provided by the employee in order for them to qualify for SSP. Fit notes, issued after an assessment of fitness to work, are by far the most commonly used form of evidence. Any additional company sick pay that may also be offered is also very likely to be conditional on the employee providing a valid fit note to their employer. They also help an employer judge when an employee may be back at work or what potential adjustments are needed to help the employee return to work. Because of this, fit notes have become an important factor of absence management for companies.
Why have these changes been implemented?
- They follow the changes from April 2022 which is to simplify the process of issuing and receiving fit notes, whereby fit notes can now be signed digitally, rather than the required ‘wet ink’ signature from a doctor.
- To reduce the backlog and pressure on doctors, particularly GPs, which has been exacerbated by Covid-19.
- The update will enable patients to see the most relevant healthcare professionals. It is hoped that employees will have better conversations about work and health. By introducing the most relevant healthcare professional from the start of absence, it will result in more employees receiving the right treatment from the outset and therefore returning to work sooner.
How will this affect your company’s management of sickness absence?
As a whole, these changes are unlikely to cause any problems for companies and their absence management, they may even mean that employees are quicker to provide a fit note if they are not waiting to see their GP. Employers will also welcome the news that there will be no changes to the payment of SSP BUT companies may wish to look at their absence management policies and make sure they are updated to reflect this change and that employees are aware of it.
There has also been concern that the new healthcare professionals who can sign may not be in the best place to assess the individual. However, the basis behind the amendment is that the professional who has been treating the employee, will be the one to issue the fit note and will have a good understanding of their position so we hope this will not be an issue. Time will tell!
If you would like us to review your contracts or policies and see if there are other changes that may be required, please email our employment team and we will happily review these for you.