Last reviewed 5 June 2019

Staff members with certain ailments need time off work for treatment and recovery. How does the process work? Health Assured, the wellbeing services provider, describes the current system of sick notes (or statements of fitness for work) and how employers can obtain them, and outlines what details a sick note should cover.

If staff have been off sick for fewer than seven days, medical evidence of their illness will not be required. Employers can ask them to fill out a self-certification form to confirm the illness. If staff are off sick for seven or more days, employers can request a sick note for work.

How do sick notes work?

While most people still refer to them as sick notes, the name was officially changed in April 2010 to the Statement of Fitness for Work. This is a medical statement from a GP, hospital doctor or person in authority confirming an employee’s absence from work due to sickness.

After the employee contacts a medical professional, they will be assessed and determined fit for work, or not. It is important for employers to know how to obtain sick notes so that employees can be advised accordingly. As well as explaining their ailment, the note provides the employer with an idea of the amount of time needed off work by employees and any reasonable adjustments required upon their return.

How to get a sick note for work-related stress

Last year, work-related stress accounted for 40% of all work-related illness. If an employee becomes affected by stress and it starts to affect their health, they should visit a doctor who can provide them with a work-related stress sick note.

If a member of staff is signed off work for this reason, depending on the result of a health assessment, they may be eligible for ESA in a work-related activity group. A sick note in this situation will need to be signed by a doctor before being sent to the DWP. This note is issued after an assessment from a hospital doctor or GP. The evaluation determines whether the member of staff is ready to return to work and expected outcomes include:

  • fully fit to return to work

  • fit to return to work under certain conditions

  • not fit to return to work.

It is possible for employees to return to work before the sick note ends. Circumstances in which this may happen will be if the employee is feeling better or if the employer can make the reasonable adjustments required to enable an earlier return. It is not necessary for them to see their GP or hospital doctor unless otherwise stated. However, it is worth noting that employees should not return to work before the sick note ends if their doctor has advised that they stay off work for the full period suggested.

Sick note for work rules

These may vary depending on the organisation’s sickness policy. However, while the process may be straightforward for staff, there are some things that employers need to keep in mind.

  • The employee handbook should include details on the procedure for reporting absences.

  • The company policy must be clear and consistent and should also include information about any pay staff members are entitled to.

  • The need to make reasonable adjustments when absence is due to a disability.

  • Employees may qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) (payable for 28 weeks) if they have been off work for four or more days.

  • If organisational sick pay is offered, it should not be less than the amount that they would receive on SSP.

  • They must maintain communication with employees on sick leave to update them on any changes within the company.

It is important to remember that if employers are unable to agree on any of the recommendations needed for the employee to return to work, they may remain on sick leave for the period stated on the note.

Sick note template for work

The details that need to be included in a sick note are:

  • GP address and contact details.

  • details of illness

  • recommended action

  • appropriate dates or period covered.

Expert advice

For further advice on wellbeing issues, contact Health Assured, the UK’s leading employee assistance programme and wellbeing services provider on 0844 891 0350.