The new ‘fit to work notes’ will be less flexible than the current sickness absence policy offered by good employers, according to a workers’ union.

A scheme which encourages people to get back to work is a good idea, but the new notes are not the way to make that happen, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) says.

New measures were recently announced to replace the paper-based ‘sick note’ with an electronic ‘fit note’ to support people on a period of illness to return to work.

Hugh Robertson, head of health and safety for the TUC, said the organisation is not sure whether the new policy will encourage people to get back to work.

"Good employers have already got sickness absence policies that allow for that and see it as an industrial relations matter for discussions between the employer and the worker. Bad employers aren’t going to do it anyway," he added.

According to the Department of Work and Pensions, the cost to the British economy of working age ill-health is over £100 billion each year.