Fit as a fiddle – or a fit-note fiddle?

Employers don’t have much confidence in the recently introduced “Fit Note” system, introduced by the Government as a replacement for the old system of sick notes, according to a survey by XpertHR.  I can’t pretend that this comes as a huge suprise and, to me, it’s symptomatic of one of the major problems of absence control: the failure of employers to take ownership of the issue.

There was always  a tendency amongst HR professionals to bemoan the fact that Doctors issued the old-style sick notes as if they were showering confetti on a  newly-wed couple.  GPs frequently talk of  issuing them to people who have nothing much wrong with them, as a means of getting them out of their Surgery, and, at the risk of sounding like a particularly rabid Daily Mail leader writer,  it’s a fact that a little research by a determined claimant can allow them to describe symptoms – particularly for ailments like stress – that will convince a Doctor to issue a sick note.

The new fit notes should, in theory, be a step forward for employers, with the facility
for Doctors to add additional comments about an employee’s condition, and his/her ability to perform some portions of their job, but clearly they are not working, and not being used to their full potential.  You can hardly blame an over-worked (and probably stressed!) GP for this; they hardly have time to do their normal job without also having to write up a report on everybody that they certify as unfit for work.

There are, undoubtedly, occasions when an employer needs to go to a Doctor, or consultant, for information on an employee’s health but in my opinion, the onus on controlling spurious absences lies with the employer.  Frequent sickness absences should be followed up by interviews with employees, to establish what the problem(s) may be and identify which employees genuinely need support and back-up from the company as opposed to those who need some “foot/posterior interface input” from their employer, to encourage them not to malinger.

The sick note culture has allowed both employees and employers to abdicate responsibility
for ensuring good attendance, and to place the onus on Doctors and the NHS.  It’s a sad reflection on British Management that, rather than trying to take ownership of absence control, they are still moaning about Doctors.  It’s not their job to control your workforce,


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