Employment law update from Ellis Whittam
7th April 2010
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This month sees a number of important employment law changes come into effect. Ellis Whittam, based near Chester, have outlines these changes exclusively for thebestofchester.

Introduction of Fit Notes

As of 6 April 2010, sick notes no longer exist. GPs will now provide a replacement  ‘fit note’ informing employers of the reason for the employee being signed off work and whether that employee is ‘unfit for work’ or ‘may be fit for work’ with some recommended adjustments.  The new ‘fit note’ will still only be issued after the first seven days of absence like the original sick note but instead of simply saying an employee is unfit to attend work, GPs will now look to see whether the employee is fit to work in any capacity.

Under the “fit note” scheme the new fit notes will say that the employee is either:

• Not Fit For Work: This is like the old sick note and simply means the employee is to refrain from work.

• May Be Fit for Work: This means that the employee may be fit to work taking into account the doctor’s recommendations.  

If an employee is declared as “may be fit for work”, a GP will now be able make recommendations to enable the employee to return to work, despite their illness or injury.  These recommendations may include a phased return to work, altered working hours or amended duties. The GP will also specify the period over which these recommendations apply (in the first 6 months of sickness this period can be up to a maximum of three months).  The employer and employee will then discuss whether the GP’s recommendations can be accommodated.  If the employer cannot make the adaption, then a review date should be agreed with the employee to revisit this. 

Conversely, if the employee does not agree with the recommendations, the employer should try to find out why the employee does not agree and see if a resolution can be found. If not, the employer may want to consult an occupational health specialist for a detailed report.  However it is recommended that the employer considers what course of action it wants to take in these situations and incorporates an “absence disputes” policy in the employee handbook. For a more detailed explanation of fit notes please go to http://www.dwp.gov.uk/fitnote/

Another key difference with fit notes is that if the employee has been declared “not fit for work” and the employee says that they are fit to return to work, the employee does not need to return to their GP to get a declaration that they are now fit to work.

Right to request time off for study and training.

The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 has introduced a right for employees to request time away from their duties to undertake training, and places a corresponding duty on employers to consider such requests seriously and to be able to refuse them only for specified business reasons (similar to the right to request flexible working).

To qualify for the right to request time away from their duties to undertake study or training, employees will need to have been continuously employed for 26 weeks and ensure that the study or training is undertaken to:

• improve the employee's effectiveness in the employer's business.
• improve the performance of the employer's business.

The Act also explains which employees are entitled to make a request for study or training.

This new ruling applies to employers with more than 250 employers (large employers) from 6 April 2010 and for all other employers from 6 April 2011.

Change to benefit rates for new parents.

This month sees new rates for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP, but soon to be known as Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Maternity Allowance (MA).

With effect from 4 April 2010;
• the standard rate of SMP, SPP and SAP has increased to £124.88 per week (previously £123.06).

With effect from 12 April 2010;
• the standard rate of MA will increase to £124.88 per week (previously £123.06).

However, the rate of Statutory Sick Pay will remain unchanged at £79.15 per week although the weekly lower earnings limit (which is the minimum level of income required to receive the above mentioned benefits) has increased from £95 to £97 per week, with effect from 6 April 2010.

Require advice on employment law?

Ellis Whittam provides employment law, health & safety and human resources support services to North West businesses and is regulated by the Financial Services Authority. If you would be interested in using their services, please contact the Business Development team on 0845 226 8393 or email enquiries@elliswhittam.com.


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Steve N

Member since: 24th January 2011

Steve is Commercial Director of thebestofchester.

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