Plans mooted to extend self-certification sick note period

Proposals are being discussed to allow employees to self-certify sick leave for a longer period during any swine flu pandemic.

The plans, which are under review by the Cabinet Office, would mean staff with suspected swine flu could extend the amount of time they can take off work without a doctor’s note from seven to 14 days.

Were the change to be put in place, it is thought that it would only be for a limited time, probably six months, and would only be introduced if the number of people falling ill rose dramatically.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the decision to extend self-certification would only be implemented if absolutely needed.

A department spokesman added: “We don’t want people to feel obliged to leave the home or return to work when they are still unwell or put an unnecessary burden on GPs in a pandemic.”

Ben Willmott, senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), argued that any extension of self-certification would not cause any undue problems for businesses with good sickness absence policies.

Mr Willmott claimed that only a small percentage of employees would seek to take advantage of the change.

He added: “When you are managing absence there is a fine line between providing support to people who have genuine health problems and taking consistent action against the small proportion that are taking advantage of occupational sick pay schemes. That does not change regardless of changes to self-certifying rules.”

However, some have expressed concern that the move, if introduced, would adversely affect smaller employers.

David Price, senior partner at Peninsula Business Services, said: “Doubling self-certification time will have a negative effect on employers, particularly for small businesses who don’t have the spare capacity to cover people.

“It’s sending out the message to employees that they can stay off for longer. At the moment, seven days seems to be the standard recovery time.”