Confusion over temporary sick leave rule could catch employers out

Workers can now take 28 days off sick without a note from their GP in a move which a legal expert said could catch out employers and their staff this winter.

The new temporary rules were introduced in December 2021, but West Midlands law firm FBC Manby Bowdler said many companies are unaware of the changes.

Employment law expert Julia Fitzsimmons, partner with FBC Manby Bowdler, is flagging up the regulations which could cause confusion among both workers and employers.

"We're heading into the peak season for colds and flus and at the same time Omicron cases are also pushing up staff absences.

"The changes to self-certification for employees on sick leave were brought in at the end of last year to give GPs more time to work on the Covid booster vaccination rollout. Under the new guidelines, workers can now take 28 days off sick without a note from their doctor."

Julia said that previously, an employee was required to give their employer a proof of sickness, such as a fit note from their GP, after seven days off sick to be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Now, an employer can't request proof of sickness any earlier than 28 days into the worker's sick leave.

In addition, no date has been given yet for the reinstatement of the seven-day rule which makes things tricky for employers and their staff.

"The change to the fit note rules have been introduced as a temporary measure to ease the pressure on GPs as they focus on getting their patients vaccinated against Covid, but the open-ended nature of the change leaves employers and their staff in limbo.

"To ensure they remain compliant with the law, those on sick leave and their employers will need to keep checking the Government website for the latest advice.

"Employers will also need to stay flexible in their demands of staff on sick leave, particularly where workers are contractually obliged to provide a fit note after seven days off as the likelihood is that a GP will not be able to issue it. Allowances will need to be made and communicated to staff, emphasising that this is a temporary change to their terms and conditions."

The temporary rule change applies to workers who have been off sick on or after December 10 2021, where their leave was continuing on December 17 2021, and to any employees who started their sick leave between December 17 and January 26 2022. Fit notes do not have to be provided for DWP benefit claims until January 27 either.

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