From sick note to fit note – work focused sick leave procedures

Work Focused Approach

DWP has decided to introduce a “work focused approach to managing all sickness absences” from 6 April 2010. This goes further than the “Fit Note” procedure also being introduced across the UK from the same date.

The Departmental Trade Union Side (DTUS) has been consulted about the changes resulting in improvement and clarification of the work focused and fit note procedures. PCS has not agreed the introduction of these changes and will monitor how they are applied in DWP.

The Fit Note Procedure

The Fit Note replaces the Sick Note (or Medical Statement) issued by doctors for everyone.

Many people with health conditions can, with some basic support from their employer, work as they recover from their condition. This helps the individual because for many people work can help recovery and also benefits the employer by reducing sickness absence.

Under the sick note system, doctors could only advise their patient on whether their health condition meant that they should refrain from work or not. As a result many people, who could work if given suitable support, would be advised that they could not work.

The new fit note system will mean that doctors can advise that the employee is either:

  • Unfit for work; or
  • May be fit for work

A doctor will give a ‘may be fit for work’’ statement if they think that their patient’s health condition may allow them to work if they are given suitable support from their employer.

If an employee is too ill to work the doctor will advise this exactly as they do now with the sick note. If the manager is unable to provide suitable support the Fit Note will revert to a Sick Note. Where there is disagreement about the proposed support being suitable the employee must be advised that they can be accompanied by a TU Rep at a discussion with the manager. (Statement of Fitness for Work Advice Q&A 18)

Work Focused Procedure

The introduction of a work focused approach from the first day of sick leave was questioned and criticised by DTUS.

Serious concerns were raised about the original DWP proposals which were amended during the consultation process. DWP agreed to introduce necessary clarifications including:

Common sense should be used in determining whether it is appropriate to engage you fully at the first point of contact or whether it would be better to continue the conversation at a more convenient time. (Sick Leave Policy 6)

A work focused approach is defined by DWP, following consultation with DTUS, as one that:

  • Respects your right to take sick leave, within the scope of the Sick Leave Policy, when you are unable to work due to illness or injury;
  • Recognises that work is generally good for physical and mental health and wellbeing and that many people with health conditions can, with basic support, work as they recover from their condition;
  • Recognises that employees do not need to be fully fit to undertake work;
  • Allows your manager to make temporary workplace adaptations so that you can work rather than sick leave;
  • Allows your manager to consider reasonable adjustments under the Reasonable Adjustments Policy if you have a disability or serious underlying medical condition;
  • Makes use of the Statement and, where appropriate, Occupational Health advice to inform decisions about fitness for work

This approach is not about trying to get you back to work before you are ready, but about you working with your manager to remove the challenges to you returning (Policy 15 & 16).

First Call Checklist

The first call procedure and checklist has been amended so that;

Unless it would be clearly inappropriate to do so (for example because the employee has pain or drowsiness which prevents work) the manager should carry out an informal work focussed discussion with the employee during the first contact or at the earliest convenient time afterwards. (Sick Leave Procedures 3.1)

The purpose of the discussion is to;

  • Identify what it is, specifically, that prevents the employee travelling to work and/or which aspects of the employee’s duties/functions they are specifically unable to undertake.
  • Explore whether any temporary workplace adaptations could be implemented to enable the employee to decide whether to attend work and undertake all or some of their duties
  • Provide employees with access to the Department’s support services e.g. the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) Physio Advice Line (PAL).

Managers must arrange a work focused discussion where an employee’s absence extends beyond 7 calendar days and the GP has given a “may be fit for work” statement and/or has provided advice about the employees functional capability and any temporary workplace adaptations that could be reasonably considered by the manager to help the employee return to work and undertake all or some of their duties.

Advice for Branches

PCS, together with the TUC, broadly welcome the principles behind the Fit Note approach. However, it is vital that this is achieved in a supportive, caring way, and that employees are not pressurised into working when they do not feel able to do so.

The changes must not be about trying to get people back to work before they are ready, but about removing the challenges to them returning.

Further guidance will be issued for members and representatives.


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