Medical practitioners have recently motioned for the current period for self-certification of absence to be extended to 14 days. Under the current system, an employee can self-certify for absences from work for up to seven days (including weekends). Where the absence extends beyond seven days, the employee is required to provide a “fit note” from his or her GP certifying him or her as unfit for work.
The rationale behind the motion is to free up valuable GP time to focus more appointments on people with acute or chronic conditions. It is understood that a large number of GP appointments are taken up with employees who have reached the end of the current seven day self-certificate period, who remain unfit for work and who need a GP to sign a “fit note” to cover the employee until they are well enough to return. A GP has the same appointment time for every patient and they do not have advance notice of the reasons behind each appointment.
The more cynical employers out there might be of the view that doubling the period available for self-certification doubles the scope for abuse of the system. Doubtless there are employers who see regular patterns of absence with employees returning to work just before the requirement to visit the doctor for a fit note is triggered. Equally, there will be many hard working, conscientious employees out there who beat themselves up about using a rare sick day when they can barely move out of bed!
Would this development have a huge practical significance? Employers will certainly be well advised to revisit their absence management procedures if this development gets approval. Employees should be required to personally telephone their line manager or HR department before their allotted start time on each day of self-certified absence to detail the reason for the absence and expected timescale for return to work. Employers should also keep track of their sick pay provisions – an employee who is only entitled to the minimum statutory sick pay (currently £88.45 per week) is less likely to take a two week sickie than an employee who is entitled to full pay. The proposal is unlikely to make any impact on the shorter absences, for example, in respect of Mr Friday night/Monday morning who pulls a sickie due to a hangover.
Employers should also remember that disciplinary action can be taken against malingerers. Where an employer has evidence which contradicts an employee’s explanation for absence, the disciplinary procedure may need to be invoked. Dishonesty is potentially misconduct. An employee who exaggerates or lies about their health to justify an absence is dishonest. Some may be of the view that it is easier to get away with a “sickie” during a period of self-certification than it would be at a later stage when a doctor’s line is required. However, there was a recent case in the Employment Appeal Tribunal where the employer was judged to have fairly dismissed an employee for lying about the reasons for absence, even where the employee’s absence was backed up by an occupational health report.
If the proposal does go through, employers should be (as a minimum) amending their absence reporting procedures to bring these up to date.