A recent survey for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) found that over 75 per cent of GPs felt obliged to issue fit notes for reasons they regarded as not being strictly medical. The 2013 report also found that a significant number of the 4,000 GPs surveyed didn’t feel adequately equipped to deal with their patients’ work issues.
The government guidelines for fit notes are clear: they are designed to help employers get employees back into work. This is why they were originally brought in, following a 2008 report, Working for a Healthier Tomorrow, which revealed that absence due to illness was costing the UK economy £100bn each year. Stress and anxiety were the most common reasons for sick leave.
As Charlotte Gallagher, of P3 People Management in Hale, points out, “Fit notes continue to cause issues for businesses, with the perception, in some quarters, of a growing fit note culture”.
The DWP survey findings reinforce the idea that the onus for making fit notes work, or for addressing sickness absence issues in general, falls squarely on employers. The government guidelines around fit notes emphasise that supporting someone with a health condition to come back to work can save money and minimise disruption. The reality of the situation may require a more in-depth look at a business’ work culture.
Charlotte advises, “In some instances, making changes, or reasonable adjustments in the workplace, will really assist in the process of returning an employee to work. Sometimes a few simple changes can help someone return to work earlier. People can come back before they are 100 per cent fit providing the right measures are in place”.
“The key for businesses is to get the right kind of professional help and advice when it comes to their employees’ well-being”, Charlotte concludes. “Fit notes may seem like a problem that won’t go away, but it’s important to tackle them in the workplace. It is also important to see them as part of a process, not an obstacle. Your employees are your greatest asset and how they contribute, and how you engage with them, are of paramount importance”.
If you would to discuss the management of absence in your workplace, please call P3 People Management on 0161 941 2426.
For more of Charlotte Gallagher’s views on this issue, please read her HR Aspects Magazine interview, Employers: Are You Coping With Fit Note Culture?