A Sick ‘Note’ Rant

If you have the right antennae on, then you soon begin to see the HR side to many of the stories hitting the news. You begin to form opinions, shift your behaviour, change your mindset, or after informed consideration, ignore it as it doesn’t impact you.

The item which has got my attention in the last week is Rishi Sunak’s plan to tackle the ‘sick note culture’.

As an HR professional and a business owner, this is something I am delighted to hear.

From experience, when someone has a genuine illness, physical or psychological, you need to work hard to persuade them to take time off work, to visit their GP or to seek professional help.

This is offset against those who seek to weaponise every ache, pain, stress or management instruction.

I have had people with ADHD, anxiety, depression, IBS and PCOS work for me throughout our 17 years, but it has never been an issue. We talk about it, I support them, they engage in the business and give 110%.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I interviewed a lady for an HR advisors role about 18 months ago. In interview she informed me that she had anxiety and depression and then went on to say that because I had interviewed her, and she had declared a medical disability, I had to employ her.

Needless to say, I did not employ her and I informed the agency who sent her of her behaviour.

There are people who are genuinely ill or disabled in some way.

They still have a role to play in society.

They have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

They can be the most loyal and hardworking employees.

But, as a business owner, you get what you deserve.

If someone needs support, address the elephant in the room and have an open discussion.

If someone is struggling, don’t ignore it – your business will suffer.

If someone needs help, signpost them to the resources they need.

Ensure your contract enables you to send someone to occupational health. Make sure that a trained professional is providing you with advice about reasonable adjustments.

If someone produces a fit note, that is the start of a process, not the end of it.

Why do I like Rishi Sunak’s plan?

Too many times when someone has been invited to a disciplinary or capability meeting, they are suddenly signed off sick with stress. No previous diagnosis. No medication. No follow up required by the GP.

Yes, a disciplinary process is stressful, but the stress will not magically go away. The employee needs to work through the disciplinary or capability process and come out the other side.

An employer has the right to manage.

An employer has the right to require employees to do their job and to do it well.

An employee has an obligation to perform the tasks for which they are being paid.

In way too many cases, the employee hides behind a fit note.

This has to stop.

It is not right that an employee fills in a form online and is able to obtain a fit note.

It is not right that an employee visits their doctor once and is signed off for four weeks, and then another four weeks and then another with no medical support, advice, medication, therapy, or follow up.

For the sake of the employee, who may need additional support.

For the sake of the business.

For the sake of our economy.

The fit / sick note culture has to change!