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'Slow progress' on effective use of fit note, says report

In 2012, a report from the Department for Work and Pensions found that the success of the 'fit note' - then just two years old - was being hampered by a number of barriers.

The way GPs dealt with conflict and their professional reluctance to damage their relationship with the patient were raised, as well as labour and economic conditions, and other non-medical issues beyond GPs' control.

The good news, according to the latest report on the subject from the EEF and Jelf Employee Benefits, is that more GPs than before are making use of the option 'may be fit for work', the main innovation of the fit note when it replaced the old sick note.

Two-fifths of employers (40 per cent) last year said that between 1 and 5 per cent of their fit notes were signed 'may be fit for work' compared with 30 per cent in 2010. Conversely, fewer companies (26 per cent) said they hadn't received any such fit notes last year, compared with 35 per cent in 2010.

But the report said it was slow progress, and that the fit note had not yet 'delivered on its key objective to return employees to work earlier'.

The manager's role

Of course, it's not only GPs who are responsible for effectiveness of the fit note - and besides, many argue that nothing should detract from their prime role of attending to their patients' medical needs.

Ultimately, absence management is the responsibility of employers, but for small businesses and those without dedicated HR departments, staying on top of absence issues can be a challenge.

That's why Acas has produced Managing staff absence: A step-by-step guide which covers everything small firms and managers need to avoid tricky situations and keep an organisation's day-to-day business running healthily.

It looks at short- and long-term illnesses, maintaining communication, and making the transition back to work as smooth as possible. It describes what to do with persistent problems, the employers' duty of care to staff, and demystifies some common misconceptions.

And as far as fit notes are concerned, it explains how managers should get the best understanding of an employee's problems, and discuss what arrangements could be made for those who 'may be fit for some work'.

Acas publications and services

Acas has information on Fit for Work , explaining the fit note in detail, and plenty of advice on guidance on Absence, including the Step-by-step guide.

Acas experts can also visit your organisation and talk to you about the fit note, identify causes of absenteeism, and develop a new attendance management system. See Health, wellbeing and managing attendance for more details.

Practical training is available on related areas, including Absence management, Handling difficult conversations, Health, work and wellbeing and essential Skills for supervisors.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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