“Sicknotes are not necessarily gospel,” Burrows says. “They should be used as a form of guidance to help employers determine whether an employee is really unfit to work, rather than being seen as the final word. So if an employer feels that an employee’s absenteeism is getting out of hand, they are certainly not obliged to just accept it.”
According to Norwich Union Healthcare, doctors get 22 million requests for sicknotes every year, of which up to 9 million are believed to be suspicious. It also found that almost 3 million UK workers say they would consider asking their GP for a bogus sicknote.
Burrows suggests that this is an area where doctors could benefit from more training. “We have seen instances where GPs have admitted that they have issued sicknotes on demand, simply to avoid confrontation with a patient,” she says. “We have also heard about cases where employees have obtained fake sicknotes on the black market.”
“Even though the majority of doctors issue sicknotes in good faith, there may well be times when they give patients the benefit of the doubt too easily, particularly if the complaint is stress or depression. This costs businesses dear,” she adds.
Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that more than half of the employers surveyed have experienced an increase in stress-related illness among staff in the last year.
“Clearly, employers need to be sensitive and judge each case on its merits. Taking too heavy-handed or broad-brush an approach could prove disastrous for employee relations,” Burrows says.
“But where absenteeism is putting a strain on productivity, profitability or morale among other members of staff, the ability to challenge sicknotes could be a key weapon in their armoury to combat it.”