One of the unexpected issues arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic for employers related to statutory ‘fit notes’, which are the documents that confirm an employee is too unwell to attend work.
A fit note is required by employers in order for them to pay Statutory Sick Pay (‘SSP’) to unwell employees. Therefore, it is a key document for all parties.
By way of reminder, employers are only required to pay SSP when an employee:
As stated at (2), employees are entitled to SSP after being sick for 4 or more days in a row based. An employee can self-certify their illness and does not need to submit proof of illness at this point. However, an employer can request proof of sickness under (4) once the employee has been away from work due to illness for more than 7 days in a row (including non-working days).
Proof of sickness will generally take the form of a fit note. If an employee does not provide appropriate proof of illness, which can include a fit note that does not meet the statutory requirements, an employer can choose to withhold SSP from the point a valid request for such evidence was made.
In order for a fit note to meet the statutory requirements, it must be signed in ink by the issuing doctor. Throughout the height of the pandemic, there was focus on limiting ‘in person’ medical appointments and, generally, any visits to GP surgeries were advised against unless in exceptional circumstances. Such restrictions made it quite difficult for employees to obtain a ‘signed in ink’ fit note.
As part of the Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) (Amendment) Regulations 2022, from 6 April 2022, a fit note can now either be:
Whilst a rather low-key development, employers should consider updating their sickness absence reporting procedures to ensure all staff are aware of their obligations when providing evidence of sickness.
Employers may also find some value in updating those managers, for example, who normally receive fit notes, alongside the relevant HR / payroll team to ensure that they are aware of the new eligibility requirements for SSP.