Rule change could stop sickies

Proposed changes to the way official sick notes are issued may help reduce the number of non-genuine absences from work, say employment lawyers.

At present, issuing the Med 3 form, the official sick note giving employees time off, is the preserve of doctors, but a research report from the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) raises the possibility of non-medical professionals being authorised to recommend sick leave.

This could include professionals such as osteopaths, chiropractors, primary care and accident and emergency nurses, physiotherapists, clinical psychologists and occupational health nurses. Both doctors and most non-medical professionals support the idea, according to research by the DWP, although psychologists were somewhat less than keen, as only half were in favour of extended certification.

‘This is good news for employers who want to make sure an employee’s condition has been properly assessed by a specialist with the time and expertise to carry out an accurate examination,’ believes Russell Brown, head of employment law at Manchester law firm, Glaisyers.

Recent research from the Confederation of British Industry estimated that around 23 million out of 168 million days sick leave taken in 2004 were as a result of staff pulling a sickie.

‘GP sick notes serve as strong evidence of a person’s incapacity to work but they aren’t conclusive,’ Brown continues. ‘These proposals should make it harder for those who feign illness or injury to deceive their medical advisers into providing a sick note.’

SMEs suffer fewest sickies

Employees of small businesses take the fewest sick days, claims research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), but small firms are still hit the hardest by staff absence. The study of nearly 4000 FSB members details the impacts and issues surrounding ill health within small firms.

The key finding from the survey is that the average number of days small businesses lost to absence per employee was 1.8 over 12 months. This is compared to the 8.4 days average in businesses of all sizes as reported by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and an average of 11.3 days for businesses in the public sector.

Many small businesses paint a positive picture, with 43 per cent of firms having no sickness absence in the past year. Business owners take an average of three days sick leave per year and many are under pressure to continue to work through sickness to ensure the continuity of the business, says the survey.

Unexpected absences hit small businesses the hardest. Without any warning a small firm can find itself without a large proportion of its workforce and covering for absence at short notice is extremely difficult in this environment. The costs and administration involved for the owner in finding cover put a strain on the company and often the owner will take the additional workload until cover can be found.

Mary Boughton, FSB National Health and Safety Chairman, says: ‘This report sheds welcome light on the issue of health at work for small firms. With small businesses employing around half of the private sector workforce, 12 million jobs rely on ensuring small firms keep going when staff are ill.

‘The report demonstrates the team spirit that runs through small firms with staff and owners more likely to be at work to keep the business running. However, it also identifies ways in which small businesses can be better supported to safeguard their employees’ health.’

Following the report the FSB has called for:

  • Incentives for providing access to occupational health care and health promotion initiatives to enable small businesses to give the maximum help to employees. An important part of this is reduced Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance in return for good workplace health and safety practices.
  • Clearer and more consistent information from government and other sources to be available about managing sickness absence, particularly with respect to employers’ and employees’ rights and responsibilities.
  • The administration of Statutory Sick Pay to be explained more clearly and the process streamlined to relieve the headache it creates for small businesses.
  • Timely access to NHS health care to maximise the productivity of businesses. Advice given by GPs and other health professionals needs to take the workplace context into account.
  • Affordable sickness absence insurance, specifically for sole traders and small businesses, improved income protection insurance schemes and clearer information about private medical insurance schemes.

To read about the cost of staff absence to Small Businesses, click here

Adam Wayland

Adam was Editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

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