The DWP recently renamed ‘sick notes’ as ‘fit notes’ which in the new guidance has led to some genuinely Orwellian gobbledygook such as: “if your employee’s doctor thinks they are fit for work, they will not be issued with a fit note.”
Just like the despised Atos run Work Capability Assessment, doctors can now declare a patient ‘fit for work’, unfit for work, or capable of some work but not necessarily the job they usually do. This means that if an employer makes some changes to a staff member’s working conditions then they may be forced back to work.
The new rules, which were devised in consultation with the Confederation of British Industry, seem little more than an attempt to bully people into work when they aren’t really well enough. The document is littered with bold claims that work is good for your health such as “People can often come back to work before they are 100% fit – in fact work can even help their recovery”.
Nowhere in the documents does it warn that people’s conditions may also be made far worse by going back to work before they are ready.
Bosses have welcomed the chance to force their sick employees back to work with one quoted as calling the new system ‘a joy':
“The joy of the fit note is that it’s flexible enough for us to interpret and fit the GP’s recommendation within the context of our business.”
The truth is that the DWP are playing a dangerous game and could tempt employers into a legal minefield. One stark warning says: “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).”
In a further complication, according to guidance from Citizen’s Advice, if employers refuse to make changes to an employee’s working conditions to accommodate doctor’s recommendations, then they are still liable to pay Statutory Sick Pay. The confusion doesn’t even end there. ‘Fit Notes’ are advice only and bosses are not legally obliged to follow that advice. They can sack you even if a doctor claims you are too ill to work. They could however then be taken to court. Employment tribunal lawyers will be rubbing their hands in glee at the DWP’s meddling with an already complex legal situation.
The DWP have already shown they are happy to play fast and loose with the Courts. Bosses who act the same way may be in for an expensive shock.
The guidance can be read at: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/fitnote/
(The above google graphic – which is genuine, try it – was stolen from somewhere but I can’t remember where – please put a link in the comments if it was you and I’ll add a credit)
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