Sick leave is estimated to cost the economy more than £100bn a year and 172 million lost working days. The Government's latest plan is to scrap the paper sick notes that doctors have used since 1948 to sign people off work, and replace them with electronic 'fit notes'. Rather than merely specifying the ailment and time off required, the fit note would set out what tasks the employee could perform and how their duties might be temporarily altered on account of their condition. GPs are not occupational health experts and would often give only generic advice, but this is nonetheless a promising proposal that could spark helpful dialogues between employers and employees on their return to work. Meanwhile, what else can employers do to counter unacceptable levels of sickness absence? Fashionable strategies include allowing US-style 'duvet days', hiring nurses to detect when staff are faking illness - and even using lie detectors to snare skivers. In truth, absenteeism is not amenable to quick fixes and requires a holistic approach that addresses the root causes. Rewarding good attendance, providing managers with effective training, and promoting employee health and wellbeing are the kinds of initiatives that pay off in the longer term.
Published: 01 Jan 2009
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010
Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors - e-mail: