Updated ACAS guidance on managing sickness absence

Last month, ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service) released updated guidance on managing sickness absence. The guidance is very helpful as its aim is to try and reduce the impact of sickness absence on both employers and employees. The new guidance recommends that employers to review their sickness absence policies and procedures in order to ensure they are up to date and show best practice.

The following sections of the new guidance are of particular interest to employers in the healthcare sector.

Recording and Monitoring of Sickness Absence

Most employers will likely already have processes in place to record employee sickness absences. The last day of sickness is the day the employee returns to work rather than the day before. It is worth noting that sickness absence is viewed as continuous and so weekends and bank holidays factor into the calculation of how many days are taken.

It is essential that records recording sickness absence are accurate and up to date. This information can help employers keep track of different types of sickness absence, rather than simply looking at collated statistics which can be misleading. This also assists in avoiding errors such as noting pregnancy absence as sickness absence, which would be discriminatory.

Accurate records also assist with establishing whether an employee has an underlying medical condition which could be the cause of repeated absences. This will enable the employer to try and work with the employee to try and reduce periods of absence and encourage a return to work where possible.

Fit notes and self-certification

Employees might need a fit note when they’re off sick. A fit note is an official statement from a registered healthcare professional giving their medical opinion on a person’s fitness for work. If someone is off sick for 7 calendar days or less (including weekends), they do not need a fit note and can self-certify.

If an employee is off sick for more than 7 calendar days, they should get a fit note from a registered healthcare professional. This is the case even if the employee was not due to be at work for some of the 7 calendar days.

Certification can be managed well with efficient processes and communication with staff so that they understand the requirement to provide certification on the eighth day of sickness absence. It is important to make clear that weekends, bank holidays and non-working days need to factor into the calculation of when medical certification is needed.

Return to Work Meeting

When an employee returns to work it is important to have a return-to-work meeting with them. This meeting can be an informal discussion between an employee and their line manager. This is important as part of the duty of care to the employee in ensuring that they feel ready to return to work and any required adjustments have been noted and actioned. It can also be helpful to see if there are any general ways to help reduce sickness absence by reminding the employee of any relevant wellbeing initiatives that are available and seeing if any personal targets can be implemented.


The key theme of the ACAS updated guidance is to encourage employers to use sickness absence information to help manage employee leave effectively and ensure best practice is followed. There is also an emphasis on the need for effective communication and flexibility when managing sickness absence. It is also important to take advice from occupational health and employment law specialists when necessary to avoid any potentially discriminatory conduct.

Tyson Taylor is a senior solicitor in our employment law team.