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Durham University

Human Resources & Organisational Development

Fit notes - Advice for Managers and Heads of Departments

What is a "fit note"?

A new "fit note" has been introduced to replace the doctor's "sick note". The fit note will outline what work a member of staff can do, rather than what he/she cannot, and is intended to help more people stay in work rather than drift into long term sickness. 

It also aims to provide more useful information on how a member of staff's condition affects what they do and how they might be able to return to work.

Under the new 'fit note' system, a doctor will be able to confirm whether the employee is either (1) not fit for work; or (2) may be fit for work with extra support from their employer. 

A doctor will give a 'may be fit for work' statement if they think that the member of staff's health condition may allow them to work - as long as he/she receives appropriate support.   The doctor will be able to suggest ways of helping the member of staff return to work, for example:

  • a phased return to work
  • flexible working
  • amended duties
  • workplace adaptations.

The doctor will also provide general details of the functional effect of the individual's condition.

Why change?

The new system is aimed at reducing levels of long-term ill health and developing a partnership between the line manager, the member of staff, the GP, occupational health and HR.

What action should I take if I receive a "fit note" from a member of staff?

If you receive a "fit note" that indicates that adjustments or extra support are recommended please contact your HR Manager immediately for advice. 

It is important to note that any adjustments recommended by a doctor will be based only on the information provided to them by the member of staff about their job or workplace, and so you must also contact Occupational Health who will arrange to meet with the member of staff in advance of their return to ensure any suggested adjustments are appropriate.

Please note that an employer is not under any obligation to agree to the adjustments recommended by the doctor.  If it is not possible to agree to such requests the member of staff will remain unfit for work and continue to be on sick leave.

Please note that when the member of staff returns to work from sick leave you should conduct a return to work interview.