Big changes to ‘fit note’ rules for Statutory Sick Pay

James Potts - Legal Services Director

January 12 2022

Due to the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, the government have changed the way you can ask staff for a doctor’s note. Read on to understand what this means for your business…

What’s changed and why?

Normally, you can ask staff for a doctor’s note if they have been off sick for seven days.

However, to help GP surgeries focus on the vaccine booster rollout, the government have extended this period to 28 days (including non-working days). So, an employee would need to be off sick for almost a month before you can request a doctor’s note.

This change is only in place for the next two weeks. This means that, for any staff sicknesses up to and including 26 January, you may need to wait longer for proof. So even if your employee calls in sick on January 26, you’ll still need to wait 28 days for a fit note.

After this, the rules on self-certifying sickness will return to normal.

Does this change include staff who have COVID-19?

This change applies to every illness except COVID-19.

Staff don’t need to provide a doctor’s note if they test positive for COVID. Instead, you can rely on their PCR test result confirmation.

Alternatively, new rules now mean that staff who have a positive lateral flow test don’t need to book a PCR test. In this situation, you can ask to see proof of their positive test. You won’t need to wait a certain amount of time before asking.

Will this change impact my workforce?

This change will apply to everyone in the UK.

And since most staff sicknesses won’t last beyond 28 days, it’s likely you can’t request a doctor’s note over the next couple of weeks.

It’s important that you and your employees share mutual trust. If your employee claims they are too poorly to work for over a week, is it likely that they’re lying? Do you have any reason to distrust your employee?

Equally, while you can’t expect a sick note, staff are free to share any proof regardless. If you and your employees share a positive relationship, this change shouldn’t cause any major issues.

Follow your usual absence process

Despite this change, you should still follow your usual absence process.

And if you’re concerned that an employee isn’t actually ill – and you can’t ask for medical evidence – it’s even more important to follow a robust absence procedure.

Here’s how:

1. Arrange a return-to-work interview

This allows you to see if employees are fit to return to work and whether you need to provide any extra support. In a face-to-face conversation, employees are less likely to lie about their illness.

2. Hold welfare meetings

If your employee is off for more than a day or two, make sure you check in with them regularly. This allows you to see whether your employee is getting better, when they may be able to return, and what kind of support you can offer.

Plus, this helps you understand the nature of the illness and whether or not your employee is telling the truth.

3. Track the sickness

When your worker calls in sick, make sure you record it. This helps you spot any patterns or red flags in the future.

And if you notice your employee’s absence levels are above average, it’s time to check in with your employee to see if they have any issues – whether at work, with their health, or at home.

Stay on top of sickness, whatever happens

With Peninsula, you have access to BrightHR – the UK’s most popular HR software. Which means you can track sickness in a click, securely upload any medical evidence, and spot trends as soon as they appear. 

Plus, with unlimited HR advice, you can navigate tricky conversations about sickness with ease. Our consultants are waiting to take your call on 0800 028 2420 to help you manage absence and more this winter.

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