When a staff member is off sick for a specific amount of time, you can request a sick note from a doctor to explain their absence.

In this guide, we explain everything you need to know about sick notes and what you need to keep in mind when an employee is off ill.

Statement of fitness for work

First off, ill employees no longer hand in sick notes. This is because, in April 2010, the traditional sick note had a name change to the statement of fitness to work.

At some businesses, people still refer to them as sick notes, but others call them fit notes. It’s up to you how name them.

Sick day procedures

There are sick note rules to remember because business procedures are more complicated than a staff member handing over a doctor’s note whenever they’ve been off ill.

For a start, you should always try to make your procedure as clear as possible for employees to follow.

But no matter how thorough your sickness policy is, you can still face unexpected outcomes. An employee may have an exceptional attendance record, with years of service and no sick days. But they can still suddenly come down ill and have to take time off.

So, from time to time, you may have an employee ask you, “When do I need a sick note?”. And it’s a simple answer—they’ll need one if they’re off for over seven days (if they’re off for fewer days, you can ask your employee to fill out a self-certification form on their return to work).

Fit notes explain how long the doctor expects the employee to be off work. This is because a fit note applies for a certain period of time, depending on the medical condition your employee has.

Doctors issue fit notes to provide you with evidence of your employee’s illness. On it, you’ll usually find details about your employees’ current health condition. But do remember the doctor’s note isn’t legally binding.

What’s included in a fit note?

When you receive a fit note, it doesn’t automatically mean your employee is ready to return to work. As such, you should talk to them about ways you can help them return once they’re back to a good level of fitness.

Medical professionals don’t have to consider any doctor’s sick note rules when they write it for your employee. The note you receive will offer a general overview of your employee’s health. But there will be certain details you can expect, such as:

  • The doctor’s recommendation on your employee’s fitness level.
  • Advice on how your employee’s condition could affect their work performance.
  • The doctor’s recommendations on how to support your employee’s return to work.
  • A statement on whether your employee is, or isn’t, fit to work.

If the note states they “may be fit to work”, then you should talk to your employee about arrangements for their return.

But sometimes it isn’t as simple as that. If it’s the role that’s making your employee sick, the doctor could suggest additional measures to help your staff member recover. This can include an occupational health assessment.

And what if you don’t agree with the doctor? Well, if you want to dismiss a medical professional’s assessment, keep your staff member’s point of view in mind.

Overriding sick notes

A common question on this topic we receive is, “Can an employer override a doctor’s sick note?” This highlights it’s good business practice to keep your employee’s well-being in mind.

A doctor’s note for work is medical advice. As a result, you can decide whether or not to accept what the doctor says. But if you have a loyal employee who is clearly ill, offering them support back to work can be a major morale boost.

There’s risk of a personal injury claim if your employee’s early return to work causes further health issues. You also run the risk of discriminating against them if you pressure them back to work too early.

And on a final note, remember that your employee’s doctor can’t become involved in any disputes you have with your employee regarding their fit note.

Fit note forgeries

Although leniency with sick staff members is good business practice, you should keep an eye out for fake sick notes. Although it’s rare, some employees can use these to skip work.

Modern technology makes it much easier to replicate doctor’s sick notes. It’s possible to either buy them online, or make them using editing software, and the results are convincing.

To avoid this issue, remain vigilant of forgeries. When you receive a fit note, look for any inconsistencies from other doctor’s notes. Forgeries usually aren’t like for like and can display basic errors you can pick up on.

Tackling absence at work

On a broader absence topic, you may face a persistent pattern of regular sickness from one or more employees. This can be frustrating as it can leave you short-staffed and unable to deliver on your business’ full potential.

If this is the case, there are ways you can tackle persistent sick leave. Consider a few of the following tactics:

  • Have a wellness policy where you can encourage openness with your employees.
  • Contact an absent employee to explain you want to help them get back to work.
  • Provide support where necessary, such as a phased return.
  • Refer your employee for an independent assessment from a specialist doctor—this can help ensure a speedy recovery.
  • Train your line managers so they can help your staff where necessary—this can help prevent for injury on the employee’s return.

Calling in sick laws

Remember that your employees will usually ring your office if they’re sick. You should have a policy for this so you’re prepared for when staff members are off.

You can find out more about calling in sick to work laws with our guide.

Need help with a doctor’s fit note?

Sick notes from employees can vary—it’s not always easy to tell what you should do to help your staff member return to work. But we can help. Call us today: 0800 028 2420.