There have been important changes relating to the issuing of “fit notes”, which are evidential statements of incapacity or limited capacity to work.
Fit notes can now be issued digitally, to better accommodate the increasing shift to virtual GP consultations following the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, fit notes can now be issued by a wider variety of healthcare professionals: nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists, in addition to doctors.
The Department for Work and Pensions has published supporting guidance, "Getting the most out of the fit note: guidance for employers and line manager". This guidance highlights that the purpose of a fit note is to help employers support an employee through illness or incapacity and ensure that their return to work is as smooth as possible. Healthcare professionals are directed to complete a fit note by reference to the employee’s fitness for work in general, rather than limit comments to the employee’s specific current role. They are also encouraged to use the free comments box to provide constructive, practical advice about the employee’s health and general ability to work, allowing employers to consider all options about how to support a return to work. However, role-specific comments may also be made if the healthcare professional believes that the employee’s current job is directly contributing to their poor health.
Employers should consider the contents of a fit note carefully and assess whether an employee can be best supported by being offered an alternate interim role, a reduced-hours role, or simply time to recover.