This months query is regarding what an employer should do when a member of staff wishes to return to work earlier than the Fit Note has signed them off for.
Q: We have an employee who joined us in April and he was off last week through back pain. He came in this morning with a doctor’s Fitness for Work note stating that he was not fit for work for two weeks. He told us, however, that he wants to come back to work tomorrow. How do we deal with this, as we are just concerned about his health, when his job is so physical?
A: Legally, there’s nothing to stop you agreeing to their request – that’s because there’s no statutory requirement for an employee to be officially signed back on as being fit for work. Furthermore, any advice provided in a fit note isn’t binding on you – so, in theory, you can disregard it.
However, practically speaking there is a significant danger here: if you let the person return to work with no questions asked, your insurers are likely to take a dim view if anything happens to them, e.g. they suffer a personal injury, or their condition worsens as a result of their early return. If the job is physical then of course this risk could be heightened.
Therefore, it’s far safer to err on the side of caution and just ask the person to check the position with their GP before they return. Even if they do feel this is OK, you should establish from the employee whether any temporary work alterations are required, e.g. reduced hours, a phased return or lighter duties. If they are, confirm them in writing and state a review date.