From time to time, your employees are going to be unwell and it can be very disruptive to the smooth running of your business. According to UNUM, sickness in the workplace amounts to £18 billion a year lost in productivity.

Excellent record-keeping and having the correct certifications will enable you to satisfy HMRC requirements for the payment of Statutory Sick Pay. However, this is just part of the picture. With the right absence and sickness policy in place that clearly outlines the expectations of the employer and employee, the sickness absence and subsequent return to work can be managed and the health and well-being of your team supported.

In summary, for short-term absences, where the employee is out of work for seven days or less (including non-working days), they can self-certify their absence without providing any form of medical evidence. Fit notes are issued by healthcare professionals or GP practice for long-term absences of more than seven calendar days in a row (including weekends and bank holidays).

What is a fit note?

A fit note, previously known as a sick note or doctor’s note, will give you some key information about the employee’s absence and it could be supplied in a hard copy or digital format.

In July 2022, the Department of Work and Pensions extended the ability to issue fit notes to a wide range of healthcare professionals, so you may find that the note is issued by professionals such as physiotherapists, psychologists, nurse practitioners and pharmacists.

The fit note indicates whether the employee is either ‘not fit for work’ or ‘may be fit for work’. If the professional ticks the latter, then they may suggest that the employee could return if for example, a phased return, amended duties/hours or work environment adaptations could be accommodated.

Self-certificate sick notes

An employee can self-certify for less than seven days’ sickness absence by completing a self-certification form called the Employee’s statement of sickness (SC2) which is available via the government website. Its completion should be mandatory for every episode of sickness absence, including half days.

Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) guidance on fit notes for employers confirms that doctors can’t issue fit notes during the first seven calendar days of sickness absence. You can require medical evidence during the first seven days of their sickness absence but it’s your responsibility to arrange this privately and pay for it.

Phased Return to Work

Returning to work, particularly after a long-term absence, can be challenging. To improve the chances of a successful and sustained return, a supported phased return to work allows your employees to gradually return to their full duties/hours over a period of time.

The approach will be personalised to each situation, taking into account the individual needs of the employee, what your organisation can reasonably accommodate and professional advice.

This could mean a temporary change to working patterns – perhaps gradually increasing the number of hours or days worked, lighter duties or home working. It is advisable to communicate regularly and keep the arrangements under regular review.


“ Professional, friendly and everything is explained in a way that is easy to understand and relay to staff. ” Read the full review

MAD-HR Feefo Rating

Return to work

When employees return to work, regardless of the length of absence, return to work interviews should be arranged.

The purpose of the meeting is to check on the health and well-being of the employee, communicate updates and discuss the need for support and adjustments. This will help to ensure that you manage the health and safety of your employee. You may wish to consider additional advice from an occupational health specialist to support returns from long-term sickness in higher-risk or complex situations.

Find more information about return-to-work interviews.

Absence and sickness policy advice

Organisations should have an absence and sickness policy in place to promote the welfare of employees. Your absence policy should be shared with your employees so that they know how each instance of absence will be handled and what procedure will be followed.

However, the manager’s role in implementing the policy with fairness, empathy and consistency is crucial, enabling issues to be resolved at the earliest possible moment to reduce the impact of sickness absence.

Our HR expert advice will ensure that your managers are trained on your Absence and Sickness Policy, that your Policy is up to date and compliant and that your employees are informed.

If you need a hand in managing your employee sickness procedures, updating your policies, training your staff or just some general advice, feel free to give us a call on 01473 360160.

Frequently Asked Questions

Useful questions and answers about “When do you need a doctor’s note?”

How long can you self certify for?

In the UK employees may self certify absence that is caused by illness for up to 7 calendar days, including non-working days. The employer may require that a self certification form is completed.

What is a fit note?

A fit note is a certificate issued by a medical professional to explain an employee's sickness absence or to document restrictions to the employee's ability to undertake their duties.

Do I need a fit note to return to work?

Employees do not generally need a fit note to return to work unless there are ongoing restrictions to the employee's ability to perform their duties. If an employer is concerned about the employee's readiness to return then they will discuss this with the employee and may wish to seek further advice.