Q Can we ask the GP if a fit note is real? You recently advised that employees can purchase fake (yet convincing) fit notes over the internet. If we doubt the legitimacy of one, can we ask the GP to confirm they issued it, or do data protection laws prevent us from doing so?

AAs far as we know, this has not yet been tested in law. But our advice is that it’s perfectly acceptable after all you’re not trying to find out sensitive medical information about an employee behind their back. So provided you don’t request any information of this nature, you can ask a GP to confirm the authenticity of a fit note.

What exactly is an Improvement Notice?

QMy EHO recently threatened me with an Improvement Notice. In the event I was quickly able to resolve the particular problem to his satisfaction. But what exactly is an Improvement Notice.

AImprovement Notices can only be served by a fully qualified and authorised enforcement officer when they are satisfied that there has been a regulatory non-compliance and that there is no imminent risk to public health.

Previously, EHOs rarely resorted to this procedure, as they preferred to gain com-pliance through more informal means. However, in the wake of the Pennington Report there is an increase in Improvement Notices being issued.

An Improvement Notice carries great weight in law, as an offence is automatically committed if the notice is ignored. An Improvement Notice must explain clearly what is wrong and which regulations have been contravened. It must also state the recommended measures to be taken to correct the defect and also set a time period within which the measures must be carried out. This time period must be realistic and cannot be less than 14 days. There is no provision within legislation for extensions to be allowed to the time period. However, the accompanying Code of Practice does say it would be unreasonable not to allow an extension if the business had genuine reasons for requesting a delay or needed extra time to complete works already started or planned.

A business has the right of appeal against a notice and details of how to make an appeal should be given at the same time that a Notice is issued. Appeals must be brought either within one month of service or the period specific in the notice if this is shorter. If an appeal is lodged, then the notice is suspended until the appeal is heard. The magistrates can cancel, affirm or modify the notice.

It must be appreciated that the issuance of a Notice does not preclude the local authority prosecuting a business for the original breach. However, a summons should not be issued until after the appeal period has lapsed or after any appeal has been heard.

What’s the situation for nutritional labels?

QDo I have to include nutritional information on labelling for my pre-packed items?

AGenerally speaking nutritional labelling is voluntary on pre-packed food unless a health or nutrition claim is made elsewhere on the packaging. For example, if you describe an item as ’low fat’ (nutritional claim) or ’helps build strong bones and teeth" (health claim), then this would trigger the requirement for nutritional labelling.

If you provide nutritional labelling, whether voluntary or mandatory, then you must comply with the required format and order and include all the nutrients in a required list