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Omicron surge prompts changes to sickness absence rules

As Omicron cases of COVID-19 increase, the nation is facing significant staff shortages across sectors. To assist the National Health Service and, in particular, GPs having to deal with a tidal wave of requests for Fit Notes, the Government has introduced some temporary measures to relieve the current pressure.

From Friday 17 December 2021, employees can now self-certify sickness absence for up to 28 days, rather than the previous seven days for the purposes of statutory sick pay (“SSP”). The change to self-certification rules is backdated to include absences of more than seven days which commenced on or after 10 December 2021. For any sickness absences which began on or after 10 December 2021, up to and including 26 January 2022, employees will not be required to provide medical evidence of sickness, such as a Fit Note, for the first 28 days of absence for the purposes of SSP. For absences beyond 28 days, a Fit Note is still required.

GPs may continue to receive requests for Fit Notes from employees in order to access to occupational or ‘company’ sick pay, depending on individual contractual arrangements and the wording of the employer’s policies and procedures. The Government, however, is encouraging employers to be flexible during this period. The change to the self-certification regime is intended as a short-term measure for the next few weeks whilst the accelerated booster programme is rolled out and it is expected to end on 26 January 2022. However, there is speculation that it could be extended.

In addition, the Government has announced that small and medium sized businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be able to claim a rebate on up to two weeks’ SSP paid to employees who are absent for Covid related reasons, including having to self-isolate.

If you need any assistance with issues arising from staff absences, staff having to self-isolate or you feel unfairly treated by your employer in relation to sickness absence, please do not hesitate to contact either Neil Johnston or Céline Winham.

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