Under government plans to boost the economy, GPs could soon be told to issue fewer sick notes.
The number of people out of the labour market due to long-term sickness absence has been rising in recent years. Data from the Office for National Statistics revealed that between June and August 2022, around 2.5 million people reported long-term sickness as the main reason for economic inactivity (up from around 2 million in 2019).
The Society of Occupational Medicine has reported that:
“One-third of people are signed off work for four weeks or longer, by which time 20% will never return to work. Once people are signed off for six months, 80% of them will never return to work.”
Under these new plans, employees would be encouraged to remain in work with the relevant support and signposting. However, this may lead to some employees attending work when they are really not fit to do so, (known as ‘presenteeism’), which studies have shown can be as costly as absence.
What would this mean for HR?
A reduction in the willingness of GPs to provide Fit Notes, if it transpires, will no doubt be a welcome development for employers who are suffering from high levels of employee absence. However, a GP’s certification regarding an employee’s fitness to work is only guidance, and does not remove the employer’s obligation to undertake its own investigation.
The absence of a Fit Note should similarly not be viewed in complete isolation. Where an employee attends work when they are not fit to do so, because they are unable to get a Fit Note, there could be a risk of an unfair dismissal or disability discrimination claim if the employer is aware of a health condition but does not investigate it or take reasonable measures to address it. Experts are therefore advising organisations to consider making their own assessments, or referring employees for an Occupational Health assessment where necessary.
How can employers pro-actively reduce absence?
The 2023 AXA Mind Health Report states that 47% of the UK population are not in a positive state of mental wellbeing and are at risk of burnout and mental exhaustion. The report also found that mental health support in the workplace makes a significant difference, with employees 3 times more likely to thrive if they work for an organisation that offers mental health support.
EML advise employers on how to deal with absence management issues from an HR, Employment Law and Health and Safety perspective, whilst providing the interventions necessary to treat the conditions that are causing absenteeism.
Our Health, Safety & Wellbeing Consultant Joanne Howley is an accredited Mental Health First Aider who can help your organisation develop an Employee Wellbeing programme to suit the needs and budget of your business. Jo is an accredited Life Coach and NLP Master Practitioner with over 30 years’ experience, and is a Senior Member of the Accredited Counsellors, Coaches, Psychotherapists and Hypnotherapists Register (ACCPH).
Whilst our HR team is busy helping employers navigate the absence management process, Jo can address the root cause of the absence in question.
“Having a wellbeing strategy in place with employee communication at its heart is the basis for tacklng staff retention and the dual perils of absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace.”
If you’re an employer looking for advice with regards to mental health and wellbeing support, or any other aspect of HR, Employment Law or Health & Safety and Wellbeing issues, please contact us on 01942 727200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a free no obligation chat.