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Merlin House, 1 Langstone Business Park

01633 459012

For more than 10 years we have provided companies of all sizes and in a variety of sectors with uncomplicated, innovative and affordable human resources advice and on-site support ensuring that your people are an asset to your company and not a liability.


With the National Minimum Wage (NMW) now almost fifteen years old, and with another increase pending on 1st April 2017 HMRC have issued a list of the most elaborate excuses they've been given by employers for not paying the appropriate rates:

A Guide to Fit-Notes

Alan Kitto

When presented with a Fit-Note by an employee, keep the following things in mind:

  • Supporting someone with a health condition to come back to work can save the Company money and minimise disruption.

  • People can often come back to work before they are 100% fit - in fact work can even help their recovery.

  • Often, a few simple and / or low-cost changes can help someone with a health condition come back to work earlier.

  • Access to Work can help employees with a disability or health condition. This includes paying towards equipment or support.

  • If your employee is assessed as ‘may be fit for work’, their fit note will help you discuss with them what these changes might be.

  • The fit note won’t tell you what changes to make, but will give you advice about how your employee’s health affects what they can do at work.

  • If you can’t make any changes to take account of the advice in the fit note, you don’t have to.

  • The fit note tells you whether your employee is expected to be fit for work at the end of their fit note.

  • If your employee’s doctor thinks they are fit for work, they will not be issued with a fit note.

  • Your employee can come back to work at any time, even if this is before their fit note expires. They do not need to go back to their doctor first.

  • The fit note belongs to your employee and they should keep the original. You may decide to take a copy for your records.

It’s also worthy of note that Doctors cannot issue fit notes during the first seven calendar days of sickness absence. Employees can self-certify for this time. If your Company requires medical evidence for the first seven days of sickness absence, it is your responsibility to arrange and pay for this.

Fit notes can be handwritten or printed, but must always be signed by a doctor. If they are printed, you can scan the barcode using a 2D matrix scanner so that you can add it to your sickness records. It also confirms that the fit note is genuine.

If a GP has issued a fit note, it should include the address of the practice. If a hospital doctor has issued the fit note, you may also receive a yellow Med 10 form stating the time your employee has spent as a hospital inpatient.

If your employee’s fit note says that they are not fit for work:

You should treat this as evidence for your sick pay procedures (see more information about sick pay here). You can take a copy of the fit note for your records, but your employee should keep the original as they may need it for benefits or other purposes.

Your employee’s fit note will tell you how long they will not be fit for work, and whether they can expect to return to work as before once it expires. See explaining the sections of the fit note for more information.

It’s a good idea to keep in touch with your employee while they are away. Guidance on managing sickness absence is available from the Health and Safety Executive and British Occupational Health Research Foundation.

If your employee’s fit note says that they may be fit for work:

You should discuss with your employee whether there are any changes which could help them return to work. These discussions can involve line managers, HR, trade unions or occupational health specialists. You can take a copy of the fit note for your records, but your employee should keep the original as they may need it for benefits or other purposes.

You do not need to be an expert in your employee’s health condition to have these discussions – they should be focussed on practical ways that you could support your employee to return to work, rather than their health condition. The checklist below may be helpful in preparing for your discussions:

  • Look at the tick boxes and comment box for advice on what your employee can do at work, and how you can support them

  • Consider how long your employee’s fitness for work is expected to be affected

  • Think of possible changes to help your employee return to work

It may be helpful to put any changes you agree down in writing, so that everyone is clear on what has been agreed. In general, any changes should last at least until the fit note expires – although this will depend on the advice in the fit note and your discussions with your employee. See some examples of employers making changes to support someone to return to work.

You may need to carry out a risk assessment to accommodate the clinical judgment in the fit note (eg if it states that your employee should avoid lifting, you are liable if you give them work that involves manual handling). Guidance on risk assessments is available on the HSE website

If you can’t agree on any changes, you should treat the fit note as if it says that your employee is not fit for work and use it as described
above. Your employee does not need a new fit note from their doctor to confirm this. See anexample of this situation.

For more information on dealing with employee absence, whether long-term or short-term, give us a call.