Fitness to work note - doctors indicate fit to work if phased return, reduced hours, changes to duties
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Home > News > Fitness to work - new system for returning to work after sickness or personal injury

7th June 2010

Fitness to work - new system for returning to work after sickness or personal injury

Many of the compensation claims that specialist personal injury lawyers like ourselves deal with every year, involve client's who are seeking a phased return to work. Everyone will have their own individual reasons for wanting to get back to work, be it financial, therapeutic, or just the need to get their life back to some sort of normality.

Although they may not be able to carry out the duties they performed before their accident or injury, they may still feel that they can contribute and that working would aid their recovery, if not to full fitness, then to achieve the best level of fitness they can.

Purpose of the sicknote

The purpose of the old style sicknote was to provide evidence that an employee was not able to work and to allow them to claim sick pay, and this basic purpose has not changed.

Fitness to work note

The introduction of the new “Fitness to work” note, which came into use in April 2010, is intended to allow people to return to work before they are 100% fit. This is the first substantial change to the system for more than 60 years.

Previously, GP's could merely indicate that a patient was unfit for work, and then when the patient had made a full recovery, sign them off as fit to return to work. The old system had the potential to keep patients out of the workplace unnecessarily, and in some circumstances, allow their employer the opportunity to dismiss them on capability grounds.

The new fitnote will have the option for GPs to select either “you are not fit for work” or “you may be fit for work taking account of the following advice”. If the latter applies, the GP can then select from 4 options to indicate to both the employee and employer, possible changes that would allow the employee to safely return to work. The choices for this are:

The GP then has the opportunity to suggest more information such as:

Each patient will need to be individually assessed by the GP before recommending their return to work.

Assessing the impact of personal injury

When someone has suffered serious injury, perhaps from a road accident or a work accident, their physical difficulties can often easily be understood. It can therefore be relatively simple to identify the type of work that they can undertake, or perhaps more accurately, the type of work they cannot undertake, whether permanently or temporarily.

Other injuries, such as back injury, or recovery from surgery, may be less obvious, but many people in this situation would also prefer to return to work, whatever their particular reason for doing so. In these circumstances, changes to their work duties or environment may also allow them to return to work much sooner than they might otherwise have done so.

Responsibility for implementing changes in the workplace

Concern has been expressed that the GP is unlikely to possess sufficient knowledge of the duties and environment in which the patient works and is therefore unlikely to be able to suggest changes that should be made. The new system puts the responsibility for deciding what changes would be suitable, and for implementing them, on the employer, who is under no legal obligation to carry out any of the GP recommendations.

Employers should carry out risk assessments to ensure that they are not introducing new risks, and that the changes will not put the employee, or other employees, at risk. Safety must always take priority over the needs of either the employer or employee to get them back to work.

Pressure on employees to return to work

There is also some concern that employers might take advantage of this new system to put pressure on employees to return to work before they have recovered sufficiently, suggesting pay cuts, or even dismissal if they do not return to work quickly.

Employer's obligations remain unchanged

Employer's obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act remain unchanged, as the requirements for the payment of Statutory Sick Pay are unchanged. Employers may also be concerned that an employee who is less than 100% fit would invalidate their liability insurance. This is not the case, but they would be advised to contact their insurer if they wish to clarify the situation.

If for some reason the employer decides that they cannot or are not willing to implement any changes to allow the safe return of the employee, they would treat the fitnote as if the GP had selected the option “you are not fit for work”. It would not be necessary for the employee to return to the GP to get that note amended.

For more information on the use and implications of this new Fitness to work note, please visit the public services website at

Making a personal injury compensation claim

If you suffer a personal injury either in a work accident, road accident, or in any other circumstances, through no fault of your own, you may be able to make a claim for personal injury compensation. Clear Answers' specialist personal injury lawyers are waiting to help you.

Strict time limits apply for making a personal injury compensation claim, so please seek expert legal advice as soon as you think you may have a valid claim for personal injury compensation. Visit our information and advice section for more details.

Contact Clear Answers on 0800 783 9019 to see if you have a valid claim for compensation. Our specialist personal injury lawyers will be happy to talk you through the compensation claims process in plain English, and answer any questions or queries you may have. Alternatively, fill out one of our online compensation claim forms and one of our representatives will contact you as soon as possible.

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