Increase in fit notes – an employer headache?

31st March 2023

Many employers will not be surprised to read this article concerning the fact that there has been a significant increase in the issuing of fit notes particularly for mental health issues such as stress and anxiety.

This article is written from the perspective of GPs who are inundated but also are criticising the way that the fit note is set out and that employers do not appear to be acting on their recommendations.  My experience of employers whom I advise is that they are very diligent in trying to act upon the conditions imposed on a fit note, but often there are no such suggestions.  There still seems to be a prevalence of fit notes which simply say that the employee is unfit to work with no guidance from the GP as to the length of time that this might continue or what to do to help that person back to work.  There is an assumption that the employer will have to deal with this situation which often forces them to have to spend money getting a more detailed viewpoint from an Occupational Health Practitioner.

This in itself can be challenging for an employer particularly in the context of mental health conditions.  Often the suggestions on returning to work from an Occupational Health Practitioner in these circumstances are a long staged return, not coming in at commuter times and working from home – all of which create a massive headache not only for the employer (who on the whole is trying to be sympathetic albeit juggling business needs) but also for the colleagues working hard and picking up the pieces.  This in itself can cause further stress for the other employees creating an ongoing problem.

There is also the further issue of dishonest employees playing the system.  The majority of those suffering mental health issues should be treated with care and sympathy.  However, unfortunately in this era when it is only too easy to look up symptoms on the internet, to feign some of those symptoms or tell the GP of those symptoms who are firstly not experts in mental health and secondly run off their feet, it is not difficult to see that some of the fit notes issued may not be for genuine reasons.  This situation is not only troublesome for GPs who have an increased workload based on both real and fake cases, but also for an employer who is doing its best to do the right thing without getting accused of discrimination or bullying.

It is a difficult path to tread and one which the SMB Employment team are very accustomed to dealing with.  If you need help navigating these issues please contact me directly on