Regulations were snuck in just before Christmas which aim to significantly reduce the number of employees needing to ask their GP for fit notes for statutory sick pay (SSP) purposes. Our understanding is that these measures are intended to be temporary and the intention is to reduce the burden on GPs so they can concentrate on the booster roll out.
For sick leave that started before 10 December 2021, employers may require employees to provide medical evidence (in most cases, a fit note) to be eligible for SSP, when the employee has been absent for more than seven days. The new regulations extend this period to 28 days. This means that employees may self-certify for 28 days and their employer will not be able to require them to provide medical evidence for this period for SSP purposes. The 28 days includes non-working days, such as weekends and bank holidays.
The new regulations specify that this modified rule applies to:
- employees who started sick leave on or after 10 December 2021, where their leave was still continuing on 17 December 2021; and
- employees who started sick leave between 17 December 2021 and 26 January 2022.
Although our understanding is that this is a temporary measure to deal with the current spike in Covid-19 cases and to assist with the booster roll out, the main statutory sick pay guidance on the government website does not specify an end date for these rules. It merely states that the seven days rule applies to sick leave that started before 10 December 2021 and the 28 day rule applies thereafter. Given this guidance and the current trajectory of the pandemic, it seems that this rule may be extended beyond 26 January 2022, if GPs remain too busy to administrate fit notes.
Many employers may have contractual provisions requiring employees to provide a fit note after seven days’ sickness absence and strictly employees remain bound by these provisions. However, it is likely that GPs will refuse to issue a fit note until the employee has been absent for more than 28 days and therefore employers should consider temporarily relaxing their usual requirements. It would be worth making it clear that this is a temporary relaxation only though.