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Fit note scheme to minimise long-term employee absence is imminent

The Government has unveiled its new medical fit note designed to replace the traditional sick note.

The note has been designed to minimise long-term absence by letting staff and employers know how someone who is taking sickness absence could most quickly return to work.

The notes will tell employers what tasks employees would be capable of doing in the workplace to speed up their return. For example, an employee with a mobility problem could return to work if their job was adapted so they did not have to stand up or move around the workplace.

Bill McKenzie, work and pensions minister, said: "Employers tell us that managing sickness absence can be a challenge. This is compounded by a sick note system that makes sickness absence a black and white issue - either you are unfit for work or you are not.
"We recognise how important it is to help people who are sick to stay in work or get back to work quickly - the new fit note will help do just that.

"Our goal is that under the new system fit notes will be computer-generated in GPs' surgeries, replacing the current handwritten version."

The fit note initiative comes as a result of Dame Carol Black's study into the health of the working age population, completed in March 2008, and the implementation will follow a 12-week consultation.

Alice Reeve, partner at legal firm Rickerbys, told HR magazine: "Most employers are likely to view the proposals for change as a positive step, particularly as the emphasis is on facilitating an early return to work. But the consultation process is still at an early stage and how this works in practice remains to be seen.

"Employers will want to ensure there is a mechanism for them to input into the process and provide their perspective about the workplace and the demands of an employee's job rather than the GP only relying on information they have received from the employee."