Friday, 16 October 2009

How 'sick' is 'sick'?


The article below has been written for the next edition the Thompsons Weekly Labour & European Law Report (LELR).

To see the back catalogue of Weekly LELR's go to:

What do the new fitness note proposals mean for sick workers?

By Ian Manborde
Thompsons Tutor in Trade Union Studies, Northern College

‘Working for a Healthier Tomorrow’ - a review by Dame Carol Black of the health and well-being of Britain’s working age population - has resulted in a number of challenging, although not unexpected proposals.

One of the most controversial is that the current sick note issued by a GP to certify sickness absence should be phased out, and replaced by a ‘well note’ indicating what activity the worker could undertake particularly as part of a phased return to work.

In a submission during the consultation period, Thompsons Solicitors expressed its concerns:

“Unless the new rules oblige employers to make changes to the working conditions of employees who were injured or became sick because of their work — such as by altering their duties or making changes to workstations — then people will either be unable to return to work, or will do so only to go off sick again,” said Thompsons’ head of policy, Tom Jones.

In discussing the proposals with shop stewards and safety reps over the past few weeks a constant concern has emerged. When determining the fitness to work or not of a worker a GP may not know enough about their job, workplace, and working conditions to make a statement under one of the three proposed fit note headings: ‘fit for work’, ‘not fit for work’ or ‘maybe fit for some work now’.

Another concern repeatedly voiced is that the Black review seeks to actively promote dialogue between GPs and employers – something reps argue would essentially entail workers who are unfit for work being placed back into the workplace and possibly without a range of appropriate adjustments made.

The critically important feature of the new proposals is that even when a GP objectively identifies a suitable pattern of work for an ill worker to return to the workplace, the onus placed on the employer to abide by these – at this stage of the recommendations at least – are solely voluntary.

You can see the full Black report at:


Jenni said...


Had no clue about this, have you an idea when it is due to kick in?

I expect the outcome of the gen election wont have an impact even though this is New Labour policy as the Tories would have come up with this regardless.

I had a quick look at the report that you linked to and to be honest the author lives in a different world from the bulk of people who have to work for a living.

You may remembere that when we met last I mentioned members who worked with babies and young children who were always with cold, flu etc but who were still being threatened with some form of disciplinary action when thet took off even a short period of time.

The report doesn't mention this at all. It pays no heed to the agressive, manipulative way that employers abuse disciplinary procedures to harass and bully people into work.

I remember once you mentioned something that stuck with me which was that employers and government always bang on about money and time lost because of sickness absence whilst they ignore the money that is saved by people remaining in work when they should rightly be at home.

This is the thin end of the wedge and New Labour have gifted the Tories the right hammer with which to bash the genuinely ill.

God help us!


Ian Manborde said...

Hi Jenni,

Many thanks for the post.

The process of introducing the 'fit for work' regime has already started.

Have a look at the article I have written for the Weekly LELR and it refers to pilots being run across the UK designed to keep people off employment support allowance.

In relation to the actual GP-issued fit notes I am not sure as the election has placed all of this on hold.

The election outcome will change nothing however, if anything, if the Tories are in the process will be hastened and made worse - if that's possible.

Keep an eye on the blog as I'll make sure I update folks on developments.

Hope to meet up soon.



ToadBoy said...

Too right!

The tories are going to come right on in on the back of another new labour attack on poor working class people who become ill primarily beacuse of their bad working conditions.

How come new labour are fundamentally biaised toward the working poor but have no problem with, as mandelson said, the filthy rich!

Ian Manborde said...


Many thanks for the comments here.

I'll keep an eye on the 'fit for work' developments and make sure I update you on what happens.



Val said...


Interesting article in the Thompsons journal - I wasn't aware of these developments.

The real incentive here is just to keep people off benefits and keep people in work when they should be off work.

Just as the first person Jenni said the employers never moan about people being at work when they should be at home on sick leave.

ALl that is going to happen is people off work longer beacuse theu have ill colleagues in the workplace with contagious conditions - this is the last thing we need with cases of swine flu on the increae!

Looking forwward to seeing you at Esher some time soon.


Muhammed said...


Another great expose!

What a slippery slope the government have created - just ready for the Torys to come in - thanks Gordon!