D-BRIEF – Employment & Pensions Blog: Changes to fit notes

From 1 July 2022, a wider range of healthcare professionals will be able to sign people off sick from work including registered nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists. It is hoped that the change will reduce GPs workloads and is part of the government’s plan to deliver an extra 50 million GP appointments a year by 2024.

A perhaps unintended consequence of this is the possibility that employers see greater absence levels as employees are able to be signed off work, without having to see their GP. This article sets out some key absence management principles for employers who find themselves with rising absence levels.

Sickness absence policies

Having a comprehensive sickness policy will help employers deal with absences consistently and effectively. It is important that the policy is made readily available so that employees are aware of what is expected from them if they become ill. An effective sickness policy will set out the standards expected from employees and will help line managers deal with absences appropriately.

Monitoring absence

Employers should carefully monitor the level of employee absence and aim to recognise any patterns or behaviours so that problems can be identified and addressed. Line managers will play a crucial role in this, as they will often be the first point of contact for employees calling in sick and they should be trained on how to deal with employees sympathetically and ask appropriate questions. In most situations, it will be appropriate to ask the employee the reason for their absence and the likely date of return, which will help the employer determine whether any temporary cover is required and what measures may need to be put in place to help facilitate an employee’s return to work. Appropriate questions will also help an employer assess whether the absence might have been triggered by an incident at work. Line managers should be aware of the business’ reporting procedure and should be encouraged to escalate any concerns through the appropriate channels.

Keeping in touch with an absent employee

An employer should keep in contact with an absent employee so that they are kept up to date with any changes to the employee’s medical condition and can make any plans or arrangements accordingly, as well as keep them aware of what is going on in the business. Reaching out to an absent employee will also help the employee feel supported and a valued part of the business and more confident to come back on expiry of their fit note, rather than seeking to delay their return because of worries about what has been going on in their absence.

Keeping records

It is important for employers to keep accurate records of all meetings and correspondence with an absent employee. If later down the line an employer decides to dismiss an employee for sickness absence, written records will be vital to defending any claims that the employee may bring against an employer. Records should be stored confidentially and should only be used for the purposes for which they are collected.

For more information, please contact a member of the Employment Team.

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