Do new medical notes ‘fit’ the bill for SMEs?

In a nutshell, the system – which came into force in April – aims to focus on what an employee may be able to do at work rather than what they cannot do in order to reduce the number of working days lost to sickness. Latest research from the CIPD shows that the average cost of absence is £692 per employee every year and employee absence is a “significant cost” to 90% of businesses.
The Department for Work and Pensions claims the introduction of the new notes will boost the UK economy to the tune of £240m as a result of the reduction in the amount of time people take off work. 
But what do the changes mean in practice?
For the first time, the new electronic statement includes a ‘may be fit for work’ option for doctors who think their patient may be able to return to work with suitable support from their employer. This option allows the GP to suggest changes that might help the employee return, including a phased return, amended duties, altered hours and workplace adaptations. 
Employers aren’t obliged to implement recommendations made, however where an employee is disabled within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act it is necessary to consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ so businesses need clear reasons why a doctor’s recommendations cannot be implemented.
The change could potentially lead to disputes around how employers respond to GP advice, particularly where suggested changes might be expensive or have difficult practical implications, so it’s worth keeping a close eye on how you manage this over coming months.  
The two key pieces of advice for SMEs dealing with employees returning to work from long-term sickness is to obtain a full medical report from a GP or Occupational Health specialist, and to carry out a thorough risk assessment before the employee returns. 
 The objective of the change is not to force people to return to work before they are ready, but to encourage people who have been absent to engage in constructive dialogue with doctors and employers about how they could return to work, which can only be good for the health of your business in the long run.
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