Fit notes failing to curb sickness absence, says CBI

The CBI claims that fit notes have failed to deliver a reduction in sickness absence, with its publication of new absence figures today.

According to the CBI’s Absence and Workplace Health Survey, conducted in conjunction with Pfizer, the UK economy lost 190 million working days to absence last year, with each employee taking an average of 6.5 days off sick.

This is an increase on 2009’s figures, which showed employee averages of 6.4 sick days, despite the introduction of fit notes in 2010.

The CBI says that the loss of 190 million working days resulted in a cost to employers of £17 billion, including more than £2.7 billion from 30.4 million days of “sickies”. Further, these figures do not include the indirect costs of absence, such as lower standards of customer service and lost productivity.

The survey found that employers have been disappointed by their experience of fit notes so far. Sixty-six per cent of firms said that fit notes had not yet helped their rehabilitation policy, while 71% were not confident that GPs were using the fit note differently from the old sick note.

Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director, said: “Although many organisations have been successful in bringing down levels of absence, the gap between the best and worst has widened.

“The substantial costs of absence to the economy put a premium on managing longer-term absence well. The fit note is a great initiative, which could play an important role in helping people back to work and stopping them slide into long-term absence. But employers are far from convinced that the scheme is working properly and don’t think GPs are getting the necessary training.

“The launch of the electronic fit note should be an ideal opportunity for the Department for Work and Pensions to extend the reach of its training programme and address GPs’ engagement. There can be no room for complacency in addressing the so-called sick note culture.”

On the subject of “sickies”, Hall added: “Sadly, more days were lost to non-genuine absence than in 2009 and the cost of these bogus sick days is over £2.7 billion a year. Sickies are unfair on colleagues and damage employers’ competitiveness at a critical point in the recovery.”

For information on managing sickness absence, visit XpertHR.

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