The number of fit notes issued by doctors dropped 16% during the pandemic, from 10.2m in 2019-20 to 8.6m in 2020-21*, shows an analysis of data by GQ|Littler, the specialist employment law firm.
Fit notes are issued by doctors and offer their medical opinion as to that person’s fitness for work when they are unable to work either at all or to the same degree as previously.
GQ|Littler says the drop in fit notes issued suggests employers may have taken a more lenient approach during the pandemic, by not demanding that employees present doctor notes to explain their absences given the difficulties in accessing GP services during certain phases in the pandemic. Employers may request a fit note if an employee has been off work for more than seven calendar days.
Social distancing requirements imposed by lockdown also meant that significantly fewer people caught common colds or flus during winter, as they were unable to mix with other households or colleagues. The firm says the decline may also be explained in part by the large numbers of people who were on furlough during the pandemic.
Sophie Vanhegan, Partner at GQ|Littler says: “Covid has given rise to unexpected trends in health-related absences from work. Whilst huge numbers of people have been taken ill with the virus, the overall number of fit notes issued by doctors in the past year has in fact gone down markedly.”
“The drop in the number of fit notes issued suggests that absences due to colds and typical winter viruses went down due to the limits on social interaction, but also that employers may have been more pragmatic in demanding employees get fit notes given the pressures on the NHS and difficulties in seeing GPs at the most acute points of the pandemic.”
“Employers understand that it’s been difficult to book medical appointments and may have been more flexible about getting a doctor’s note than they would normally be.”
*NHS, year-end, March 31st
GQ|Littler is a leading specialist employment law firm and the London office of Littler, the largest global employment and labor law practice devoted exclusively to representing management. With more than 1,600 lawyers in 100 offices worldwide, GQ Littler serves as the single source solution provider to the global employer community.
Offering risk-based contentious and non-contentious advice, our legal expertise includes employment, immigration, data privacy and employee tax and incentives. Our client base spans a wide range of sectors including financial services, technology, healthcare, professional services and luxury goods, in the UK and internationally.
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For expert insight into the pandemic’s impact on the future of the European workplace, including in the areas of remote work, employee wellbeing, managing annual leave and workforce reductions, see Littler’s European Employer COVID-19 Survey Report.