In order to increase GPs’ capacity and maximise their ability to support the coronavirus vaccine booster programme, new regulations have been introduced which alter the rules around self-certification, fit notes and eligibility for SSP. Below, we consider the implications of the regulations for employers.
The usual position is that an employer can require an employee to provide a fit note from their doctor or other evidence of sickness (e.g. online isolation note, notification from NHS Test and Trace, etc.) after 7 days’ absence (including non-working days). (Government guidance on the types of evidence that can be accepted is available here.)
This has been temporarily altered so that if an employee goes off sick on any day on or after 10 December 2021, up to and including 26 January 2022, an employer cannot require them to produce a fit note or other evidence of sickness until they have been off for 28 days or more.
Note that employees who started sick leave before 10 December 2021 can still be required to give proof of absence in the usual way if they have been off work for more than 7 days.
While there are understandable reasons for reducing the burden on GPs at this time, employers may well fear that this change could make it more difficult for them to manage sickness absence effectively in the short term. For example, the fact that the employer cannot require a fit note or other evidence of sickness for the first 28 days may enable ‘malingering’ employees to prolong their absence (which will have financial implications, particularly where companies provide full company sick pay). In addition, the inability of employers to require a fit note or other evidence for periods of absence of less than 28 days may delay the discovery of an employee’s underlying medical condition. It may also complicate things for employers when dealing with requests from employees who have fallen ill during or shortly before a period of booked annual leave to reclassify that leave as sickness absence.
Employers will need to rely on other elements of their attendance management policies to proactively manage sickness absence, such as: ensuring compliance with absence reporting requirements; keeping in touch with employees; holding detailed return to work interviews; and applying triggers for attendance reviews where applicable. It will also still be possible to refer employees to OH if appropriate.
How we can help
Our recent blog, ‘HR Challenges of a Covid Christmas,’ considers how current developments, including on absence and self-isolation, may have added to HR’s to-do list, while our Covid-19 FAQs are regularly maintained to keep employers up-to-date on all HR and employment related Covid-19 issues.
Make UK members who need advice in relation to managing sickness absence should contact their regular adviser. They can also visit the Sickness and incapacity section of our HRL resources.
We can also provide advice and assistance to non-members on a consultancy basis – if you would like further information on our services, please call us on 0808 168 5874, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.