Can an employee return to work before the end of a fit note?

As an employer you undoubtedly have to deal with sickness absences from time to time and will have occasions when you will receive a fit note from an employee’s GP setting out that they are not fit for work for a period of time.

The duration of the sick note will vary depending on the employee’s illness or injury and recovery required.  

But what happens if an employee wants to voluntarily return to work before the end of a fit note?

Why might an employee want to return to work before the end of a fit note?

An employee might have recovered sooner than advised by their GP and if they are in receipt of statutory sick pay, it may make sense for them financially to return sooner so they can return to their normal pay.

Some employees want to return to work because they miss working and getting out and about or they may feel it will help with their recovery.

So, what should you do if an employee wants to return early?

If a fit note states that the employee is not fit to work, and they have expressed a desire to return to work early then you can, at your discretion, agree that they return early.

However, we recommend that you take the following steps before allowing them to return:

  1. Have a discussion with the employee to establish why they wish to return before the end of the fit note and if they feel fully fit to return.
  2. Carry out a risk assessment to ensure that any potential risks that could cause harm are mitigated.
  3. Consider whether any adjustments may need to be made for them to safely return.
  4. Monitor their progress regularly until the official period of the fit note has expired or later if you continue to have any concerns about their recovery and fitness for work.

A GP will not be able to use the fit note to confirm that an employee is fit to work and so there is no requirement for an employee to be “signed back” by their GP before the expiry of the fit note.

If you are unsure about allowing an employee to return to work, you could ask the employee to obtain a letter from their GP to confirm that they are fit to work, however in our experience GP’s are reluctant to provide this and point towards obtaining specific occupational health advice, and if they do agree there is usually a charge for this letter.

In the absence of confirmation from the employee’s GP, if you are not satisfied that the employee has sufficiently recovered, there is no obligation on you as an employer to allow the employee to return to work until the expiry of the fit note.

We recommend that you keep a record of discussions held and reasons for decisions made on the employee’s personnel file.

You should also ensure that there is no pressure for employees to return to work before the end of their fit note as there is a risk that the employee’s condition may worsen which could have a long-term impact on their health and wellbeing and attendance at work.

If you have any questions about this or would like some advice about a particular situation, please do not hesitate to contact me or a member of the team.

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

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