Employers are being reminded they cannot ask employees for proof of sickness until they’ve been off for more than 28 days. 

The rule is in place until January 26th; previously the government guidance was that employers could ask for a fit note after 7 days. 

The government says the 28 day rule is now in place to help free up GPs for the Covid booster rollout.

A DWP spokesperson said: “For any sickness absences which began on or after 10 December 2021, up to and including 26 January 2022, GPs will not need to provide employees with medical evidence of sickness.” 

For absences relating to Covid-19, for example, those who have tested positive or were contacted by NHS Test and Trace as a close contact, companies can ask employees for proof of a positive test or isolation request.  

Alan Price is CEO at BrightHR. He says: “The extension of self-certification of absence also does not negate an employer’s responsibility to conduct regular welfare meetings; all other aspects of the absence management process should remain as usual.”

The government guidance on statutory sick pay says employers must not withhold sick pay from individuals who are unable to provide a fit note, as they might not be able to get an appointment with their doctor due to the booster rollout.

James Tamm is Director of Legal Services at WorkNest. He says it is not necessary to change company policy entirely for a temporary rule: “This appears to be a short-term measure, and assuming pressure is alleviated on GPs, we should have reverted back to the normal seven days by the end of January. Managers and HR teams will just need to bear this in mind for the next five to six weeks.”

Alan Price said: “Several GP practices are suspending normal appointments to focus on the rollout of booster vaccines. As such, there may be a knock-on effect on any requests for medical reports, which could prolong medical capability processes.”

WorkNest says the new rules might be a worrying prospect for employers ahead of a busy holiday period, in case employees take advantage of the new rules. 

However, it says this still does not mean employers can demand an employee produce a fit note until after the extended 28-day period is up, even if they suspect they are not genuinely ill. 

James Tamm said: “If you think employees are likely to exploit this, you can point out that the rules for contractual schemes are different and must still be complied with. Further, it’s important you have robust procedures in place for dealing with absenteeism and ensure those are followed so that employees with a poor attendance record can be dealt with appropriately.”