GPs have come out in favour of workers being able to self-certify illness for up to 14 days, claiming it will ease the burden on GPs.
Under current rules, self-certification of illness applies where a worker is ill for fewer than 7 consecutive days, this means they do not require a fit note for these first 7 days of illness.
A fit note is applicable after 8 or more consecutive days of sickness, and in the first instance is valid for up to 6 months and, if the illness persists more than 6 months can be extended indefinitely. A fit note will also specify whether a worker is unfit to work altogether, or can work if certain adjustments are made.
There is no legal requirement for employers to follow a doctor’s recommendations, any changes or adjustments to working should be discussed with the worker, and should be balanced with the resource requirements of the business.
Should self-certification be allowed?
While self-certification could prove much faster for workers (and, as the BMA suggests, may ease the stress on doctors) could it prove more of a pain than a help to employers? There is some concern about the levels of unauthorised absences within the workplace. Some estimates place the cost of absence on British businesses at £23 billion a year, with 32% of employees reported to have ‘pulled a sickie’ at some point (26% stating their reason for doing so being a hangover).
While it is not possible, or advisable, to prevent absences altogether, putting steps in place to discourage unauthorised absences can have a positive impact on absence rates.
Deminos advises employers to implement ‘return-to-work’ interviews for all periods of absence (even really short ones) to ensure employees are aware that they will have to account for any absence they take, making them think twice about taking a sick-day when they are healthy!
Allowing self-certification for up to 2 weeks, could have the potential to let employees take advantage and have more time away from work. Of course, most employees are hard-working and only take sick-days when necessary, but it is a subject which will likely concern employers.
The DWP stated it had no plans to change the current system, a spokesperson was quoted as saying; “The system was set up following consultation and we believe it supports individuals and employers without overburdening GPs.”