Swine flu self-certification extension opposed by employers

Employers have urged the government not to extend self-certification sick leave for those with swine flu to more than 10 days, Personnel Today has learned.

At a recent meeting of the Business Advisory Network for Flu, set up to consider how to deal with the pandemic, employers said they would prefer not to see self-certification extended past the current five-day allowance. But if a second wave of swine flu made this a necessity, the extension should be limited to 10 days – rather than the government’s initial proposal of 14 days, which Personnel Today exclusively revealed in July.

The network of up to 150 high-profile employers also called for the self-certification to be introduced for a limited time period so that it could be withdrawn when the need subsided.

Businesses have called for the 10-day limit after being concerned that employees could “abuse” the system and see the changes as a ‘freedom pass’ to taking two weeks off work with relatively little consequences.

Bruce Mann, director of the civil service contingencies secretariat at the Cabinet Office, said that 50% of those who contracted swine flu were able to return to work within seven calendar days, while 25% needed 10 days to recover.

Speaking at a seminar on the swine flu threat to businesses, hosted by the CBI and insurance firm Marsh today, Mann said: “If we go as high as 30% of the population being infected, in a peak week we would get around five million cases. The small proportion of those people who need to go to their GPs will then swamp those GPs. We will then have to look at the best use of GPs’ time – in those circumstances, the government could consider extending self-certification to maybe 10 days as recommended by businesses.

“It all depends on what happens to the virus; we have to stay flexible. The government is not intending to make a change to self-certification. If the virus becomes more severe, we will need to look at it again.”

Lindsey Davies, national director of the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness at the Department of Health, told Personnel Today it was still too early to say if self-certification would need to be extended, but the government “wants to do what makes sense for both employers and the public”.

The government, currently planning for a peak absence rate of 12% of the workforce, is also considering introducing a time limit of six months for the new self-certification procedures.

It also emerged today that the government has considered extending self-certification to all illnesses, not just swine flu.

Earlier this week, employers were warned to brace themselves for staff absence rates of up to 50% for periods of between two and four weeks over the coming months.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s warning comes as swine flu figures out yesterday showed a continuing fall in the number of people infected by the bug, with only 4,500 new cases in England last week.

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