According to research from accountancy firm PwC sick days are costing UK employers about £29 billion a year. Sick leave accounts for nearly 90% of absence bills with other types of leave, e.g. compassionate leave and dependants leave, taking up the other 10%.
Currently employees who are off sick from work can ‘self certify’ for up to seven days. In other words, they don’t need to produce any evidence of their medical condition to their employer.
After seven days, they are then required to obtain a “fit note” from their GP. This note should set out the reason for their absence.
At the British Medical Association’s annual conference earlier this month, the possibility of increasing the seven day period for self-certification to 14 days was debated by docotrs. It’s hoped that this would tackle the high number of routine appointments.
Dr Richard Vautrey, who sits on the British Medical Association’s committee, commented: “If you’ve got a patient who very clearly has an illness that is going to last 10 days to 2 weeks why do they need to make an appointment with a GP, just to get that note to tell their employer what their employer probably knows already, and what the patient should be trusted to be able to pass on?”
Will extending the self certify period affect employers?
Whilst the logic for extending the self certification period is clearly there, the issue for employers will be one of trust. It can be difficult to dispute the genuineness of an employee’s sickness absence during the self certification period. Unless of course, there is clear evidence that contradicts the reason for the absence. If an employee is able to remain off for a further week without having to get checked by a GP, this could arguably lead to longer periods of absence.
On the flip side, it’s entirely possible that absence levels will remain at a similar level. Ultimately if an employee is intent on abusing the system, they will do so regardless of whether they need to convince a GP that they are not well enough to attend work for a further week.
Regardless of the length of the self-certification period, we can’t stress enough that the key to managing sickness absence is having an effective process in place. This should include a clear policy on sickness absence reporting and the requirement for return to work interviews after every period of absence. The policy should also clearly state what action is to be taken in cases of unacceptable levels of absence.
Where employees are off for a sustained period of time, e.g. over a week, employers should be putting a communication plan in place to ensure that regular contact with the employee is maintained. Albeit this should be kept at a reasonable and non-intrusive level.
Ultimately, if the self-certification period is increased to 14 days this may well reduce the number of appointments for GPs. But the burden remains on employers to implement robust and effective sickness management processes.
You can view the figures on the PwC website.