sick employee

As an employer, you need to have a suitable and up-to-date absence policy, designed to promote the health and wellbeing of your employees and to help you manage your workflow.

Unfortunately, many businesses are seeing an increase in receiving ‘fit notes’ from employees suffering mental and physical health problems due to financial stress caused by the cost-of-living crisis. While your top priority is to ensure your employees health and wellbeing is put first, this will ultimately have an impact on your business.

So, what can you do?

You need to have a clear absence policy that outlines what are acceptable reasons for absence, processes for calling in sick, your rules for payments and what is covered by law.

To help you do this, I’ve put together a few frequently asked questions surrounding creating an absence policy.

– Please note, that the answers here are very brief and sadly we are only scratching the surface for dealing with absence employees. Every situation is unique and may be sensitive. It’s always best to seek advice from a HR adviser rather than tackling this alone.

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What are the areas covered by law that must be part of the absence policy?

What is a fit note?

A fit note* is an official written statement from a registered healthcare professional providing their medical opinion on a person’s fitness for work.

The fit note can handwritten or sent electronically.

*Fit notes used to be called sick notes.

What should I see in a fit note?

There should be two boxes to tick, either the employee is ‘not fit for work’, or ‘might be fit for work’.

If the healthcare professional has ticked ‘might be fit for work’, they might also provide recommendations for how you as the employer could support the employee. This will include reasonable adjustments that can be made within the business and/or what level of work they consider the employee is able to do.

What happens if an employee is absent for 7 days or less?

If an employee is absent due to sickness for 7 calendar days or less (including weekends), they do not need to provide a fit note. This means they must tell you as the employer that they are not well enough to work and do not need to provide any further medical evidence. This is called ‘self-certifying’.

They should be paid the amount of sick pay that is in their contract.

What happens if an employee is absent for more than 7 days?

If an employee is is off sick for longer than 7 calendar days (no matter how many days they work each week), then the employee must get a fit note from a registered healthcare professional.

If the employee is struggling to get an appointment to cover any time after the 7th day of being absent, then they should contact you to explain.

As an employer, do I have to consider all the recommendations listed on a fit note?

Yes, as an employer, you do have to consider possibly a phased return, flexible working, different duties, or even making changes to their worksites or working patterns to help an employee return to work.

Can I keep in touch with an employee during their absence?

Yes, if an employee has been off sick for a period of time (long term sick can be from 4 weeks), an employer can organise an informal absence meeting to help ascertain what additional support the employee may need in returning to work.

Can I ask to see an employee’s medical record?

Yes, you can ask to see an employees medical record if you need additional support in confirming that the employee is fit to carry out their work, to prevent health and safety risks, and to prevent disability discrimination – but only if the employee agrees and signs a proforma allowing access.

What is a ‘return to work meeting’?

When an employee is ready to return to work after an absence, you should have a procedure to follow, which is outlined in the absence policy, which may include, making reasonable adjustments, phased return.

Can an employee take annual leave while on long-term sickness absence?

Yes, the law does not prevent employees from taking annual leave while on sickness absence.

Can an employee work elsewhere while on sickness absence?

Yes, as it would depend on the nature of the work and the reason for the employee’s sickness absence.