Changes to Self Certification Sick Notes

Caragh Bailey
20/01/2022
6
3 min read
Changes to Self Certification Sick Notes explained by Employment Law Friend

Generally an employee is allowed to self-certify for sick pay for up to seven days, after which, to be eligible for Statutory Sick pay, they require a fit note (previously known as a sick note) from their GP confirming their sickness, and likely return date.

With effect from 9 December 2021, there was a change in this requirement and employees can now self-certify for up to 28 days sickness (including bank holidays, weekends, etc). This change only applies to periods of sickness beginning on or after 9 December 2022, but at the moment the period of sickness must conclude on or before 26 January 2022.

This is intended by the Government as a short term measure to assist with the growing crisis in accessing health care and to ease the pressure on GPs. It will also assist employees who are simply unable to get a fit note due to the difficulties in getting a GP appointment in many parts of the country.

Although this change only applies to Statutory Sick Pay, it may create difficulties where an employee requires a fit note from their GP after seven days in order to access their employers more generous sick pay scheme. Due to these changes, such a requirement technically means the fit note needed is a private medical letter, and therefore payment is required. In practice, as this change is so new it is likely that many GPs will continue to provide fit notes as before to any employee who needs one, but it is open to GP surgeries to insist on charging for this service.

There is a wide expectation that this change – presently due to expire on 26 January 2022 – will be extended into the long term and potentially made permanent. Although the Omicron variant appears to have now peaked in much of the country, the pressures on GPs are still intense, and because Statutory Sick Pay is increasingly paid by employers and not the Government, there is increasingly widespread view that if employers want medical evidence sooner then that is something they can and should pay for themselves, rather than troubling GPs to provide the service.

It is important to note that this change has no affect at all on an employer insisting that an employee attend a medical appoint or engage with Occupational Health in some manner, in order to access sick pay, and an employer is entitled to insist that sick pay (other than Statutory Sick Pay) will only be paid after someone has engaged with such services.

If this is extended then it is likely to lead to changes in employment contracts and in practice, where a requirement to engage with Occupational Health and other medical referrals are engaged sooner and more often. Many employers will not be happy with paying for up to four weeks sick leave on full pay with no medical evidence at all regarding why someone is not fit to return to work.

For an employee, it would usually amount to a disciplinary offence, to refuse to engage with these, and the 28 day change to fit notes as no affect at all on that. We should be hearing very soon on whether this change will be extended.

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