Fit notes – what can you do when you’re off on the sick?

Back in my consultancy days I had many conversations with employers, convinced an absent employee was swinging the lead, haloo with delight when they caught said employee driving past the office / going to Tesco’s / whatever. There’s a common view that if you’re off sick, then you’re confined to bed and the sofa, steaming bowl of water and a blanket on standby.

This simply isn’t true. Pretending you’re too ill to work when in fact you’re well enough would certainly warrant a disciplinary, but the simple fact is that you can be too ill to work but still quite well enough to get on with your leisure time and have some fun.

Two examples from opposite ends of the spectrum:

  • Ill worker fired over facebook – A Nationale Suisse employee went home with a migraine, saying she needed to lay down in a darkened room. When the company noticed that she was active on facebook, they dismissed her on the basis that she must have been well enough to work. This simply wouldn’t wash here without further investigation.
  • Employee with bad back takes part in surfing competition – One has more sympathy with the employer here, but an Australian appeals tribunal ruled that since he had been medically advised he could safely surf, but was still not fit to work as a baggage worker, dismissal was too harsh a penalty (thanks to Barrister Blog for this story).

If an employee has lied about his or her condition then this is grounds for disciplinary, but unfortunately that’s as far as an employer can take it.

Meanwhile in the UK, new “fit notes” to replace the sick notes issued by GPs are due to come into use in 2010.