An employee working for Pizza Hut in Canada rang in sick for one day stating that they had a cold. Their manager’s response was that they had to get a certificate from their doctor. In response, a letter was posted (anonymously) on the website Reddit and the result went viral. Here’s why…

GP’s response

It seems that when the employee approached his Doctor, as instructed by the manager, the doctor wrote the following letter to the employer:

“X, has by their own report, a cold today and sensibly stayed away from work rather than spread this to colleagues/customers. I have no test for the common cold and therefore believe him. However, you feel his time and mine should be wasted by making him sit in the clinic for hours and me spending time writing a sick note that I could be spending on people who genuinely need my attention. Please reconsider your policy on this.”

Whilst this case took place in Canada it raises important issues for employers here in the UK.

Legal position

Clearly, this doctor was unhappy with the employer’s rules, but what’s the legal position regarding fit notes for the UK? Can they be issued for one or a few days’ sickness absence?

The 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.

A fit note that states an employee is “not fit for work”, i.e. they are to remain off sick, should only be issued if sickness absence is going to last (or has already lasted) seven days or more. That said, where an employee “may be fit for work” from day one of an illness or another incapacity, their GP may decide to issue a fit note with recommendations on how this can be achieved.

Where an employee has a period of sickness absence due to an illness or incapacity that lasts for seven days or less, they can self-certify for this period of time. You can require medical evidence during the first seven days of their sickness absence but it’s your responsibility to arrange and pay for it, not the employee’s.

An employee can self-certify for less than seven days’ sickness absence by completing a self-certification form. Its completion should be mandatory for every episode of sickness absence, including half days. In this case-study, if this situation had occurred in the UK, the manager should have ensured that the employee had completed the self-certification form on return to work, not asked for a Doctor’s note. This needs monitoring as odd short spells of absence can easily slip.

Return to work

When your employee returns to work, regardless of the length of absence, a post sickness interview should be held with all employees. Employees generally refrain from taking the odd day off if they have to discuss regular absence with their manager. Should the number of occurrences of sickness absence, or the number of days lost, reach an unacceptable level (excluding any certified absences or where the employee needs to be absent due to a disability), you may wish to state that the disciplinary procedure may be invoked and this could result in a formal warning being issued against them. However, this will also depend on following the stages of your sickness absence procedures first.

HR advice

Our HR expert advice is to 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 staff sickness procedures, updating your policies, training your staff or just some general advice, feel free to give us a call on 01473 360160.

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