Self Certification Guide for Managers


When managing sickness absence in the workplace, employers have to achieve a balance between safeguarding the operational needs of the business, and ensuring the health and wellbeing of the workforce. By understanding the rules around self certification, and by implementing appropriate measures, staff can be made to account for any short-term absences and, where necessary, they can be offered support for any ongoing illness resulting in recurring sick leave.

The following guide for employers looks at the rules around self certification, from who can self certify and when, to how self certified absences should be managed effectively.


Who can self certify and when?

If an individual is absent from work for a period of 7 days or less, they are not required by law to provide their employer with medical proof of ill health. It is only a legal requirement for a person to provide a fit note from their GP or other medical practitioner if they have been absent from work for a period of more than 7 calendar days. Employers should bear in mind that doctors cannot issue free fit notes during the first 7 days of sickness absence.

However, even where a period of sick leave has been for less than one week, employers are legally allowed to ask a worker to self-certify on their return to work that they have been off sick, and to provide a brief description of the nature of any illness or injury.


Are self certification forms required?

There is no prescribed mode to ask staff to self certify, where a number of different options are available to employers. These include asking staff to complete and download Form SC2: Statement of Sickness, getting them to fill in a company pro forma, or even asking them to submit a written explanation by way of email accounting for their absence from work.

Form SC2 is a HMRC authorised form that can be completed online at GOV.UK. Once downloaded, this can then be sent to the employer. This is ideal for reporting sickness absence where a fit note is not required by law. This is also the form that employees must use to claim statutory sick pay. The individual will be required to provide some basic personal details, together with details of their sickness absence, including the start and end dates, and the last day that they worked before the sickness began.

Alternatively, the employer may have its own set procedure for self certification. In either case, any failure by an individual to provide a procedurally-compliant explanation of their illness or injury means that the employer can treat their absence from work as unauthorised. This means that any unexplained sickness absence can be dealt with as a potential misconduct matter for which disciplinary action can be taken against the individual in question.


How long can workers self certify for?

If an individual is absent from work for more than 7 consecutive days, including non-working days, they are obliged to provide their employer with a fit note. This effectively means that a worker can self certify up until a fit note becomes required by law, so 7 days in a row.

Also referred to as a statement of fitness for work, the fit note is the official document issued by either a GP or hospital doctor to certify a person’s ability to work. If the employer agrees, a similar document can be provided by a physiotherapist, podiatrist or occupational therapist. The fit note will document when the individual was medically assessed, the nature of their illness or injury, the prognosis period and whether a further assessment will be needed.

The fit note will also tell the employer, based on the above information, whether the treating physician thinks that the person is not fit for work of any kind at this stage, or fit for some work, provided certain adjustments are made to their working conditions. These could include amended duties, altered hours, a phased return and/or workplace adaptations.


Are workers entitled to sick pay during any self certification period?

If a worker is off sick through either illness or injury, they may be entitled to contractual or statutory sick pay (SSP). SSP is the minimum amount that an employer must pay an eligible worker on sick leave. Where a worker meets the requirements for SSP, this must be paid at a flat rate of £99.35 per week, payable from the fourth day of sickness absence for a period of up to 28 weeks. This is paid for any days normally worked, known as ‘qualifying days’.

Employers must pay SSP to any individual who meets all of the following requirements:

  • they are an ‘employee’ working under a contract of employment
  • that employee has been on sick leave for a minimum of 4 days in a row, including non-working days, such as weekends or bank holidays
  • they earn an average of at least £123 gross per week
  • they have provided notice of their sickness absence and, where required, a fit note.

As with self certification, employers can set down their own procedure for when employees must notify them of any sickness absence for the purposes of SSP. This means that the employer can set out the timeframe within which an employee must report their absence, either within the employee’s contract of employment or any workplace policy.

However, absent anything in writing, the employee must inform the employer of their absence within 7 days. The employer is not obliged to pay SSP for those days that the employee was late in telling them, unless a good reason has been provided for this delay. In contrast, employers cannot withhold SSP if the employee is late in submitting a fit note.

Alternatively, the employer may have an occupational sick pay scheme in place, under which an individual is entitled to contractual sick pay at an enhanced rate. Under an occupational scheme, the employer can also offer sick pay on enhanced terms, such as payment from day one of sickness and for more than 28 weeks. However, the employer must, as a minimum, ensure that any sick pay scheme matches, if not enhances, an individual’s statutory rights.


What are workers’ obligations during any self certification period?

The nature and extent of a worker’s obligations during any self certification period will very much depend on the terms of their employment contract or procedures set down in any workplace policy relating to sick leave. In many cases, staff will be required to report sickness absence within contractually prescribed timeframes, following set procedures. They may also be required to keep in touch at regular intervals, or be available to provide updates on request.

However, absent any written procedures or written obligations, a worker is only obliged to notify the employer of their absence, and to provide a fit note, after 7 consecutive days of sickness. This means that if an employer requires their staff to immediately notify them of any sick leave, and to self certify on their return to work, they must set this down in writing.


What are employers’ obligations during any self certification period?

For the employer, there are two main obligations that must be met when dealing with self certification periods: paying statutory or contractual sick pay, where applicable, and ensuring the health and wellbeing of the worker. In the context of health and safety, and as far as is reasonably practicable, employers are under a statutory duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work. This extends to ensuring an employee’s mental wellbeing when off work through sickness, such as maintaining regular contact, providing support and assistance if needed, and making any reasonable adjustments to facilitate their return to work.

There is no automatic requirement to keep in touch with staff on sick leave, especially during any short self certification period, although maintaining regular contact will go some way to discharging the duty to ensure an employee’s health and wellbeing. Keeping in touch can also play an important role in effectively managing workplace absences. However, the amount of contact that an employer has with someone off sick should be no more than is necessary to check on their wellbeing, offer support, address any absence-related matters, such as sick pay or fit notes, update them on any important changes at work that may impact them, and to discuss any adjustments that can be made to facilitate their early return.

In relation to reasonable adjustments, where a worker is suffering from a disability — defined as a physical and/or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on a person’s ability to do normal daily activities — employers are under a statutory duty to make any reasonable adjustments to accommodate their return to work. In relation to short periods of sickness absence, any disability issues arising from possible long-term illness or injury are highly unlikely to arise. However, even with short self certification periods, employers should always consider what adjustments can be made to support an individual’s return to work, in this way preventing any short term absence from becoming long-term.


How should self certified absences be managed effectively?

The effective management of self certified absences will help employers to strike a balance between the operational needs of the business, reducing high rates of absenteeism, where at all possible, and to ensure the health and wellbeing of their workforce.

There are various measures that can be put in place to help manage any period of self certification, and beyond, including a well-drafted sickness policy, setting out the relevant rules and procedures to be followed around reporting sickness absence and self certification.

Given that workers are only required by law to notify an employer of their sickness absence, and to provide a fit note, after a period of sickness of more than 7 calendar days, it is important for employers to set out any sickness reporting requirements in writing. Where an employer is looking to set down detailed procedures, together with all matters related to sickness absence, this is often best achieved by way of a stand alone sickness absence policy.

A sickness absence policy is an effective way of creating a clear framework for reporting and managing sick leave, providing guidance and instruction on what is expected of staff when absent from work through ill health. The policy should include the procedures to be followed when notifying the employer of sickness, the timelines for self certification, the requirement and timeframe for fit notes, entitlement to sick pay and the rules on keeping in touch.

Additional measures to help manage periods of self certification could include back to work interviews and monitoring the reasons given for short periods of absence.

The 7-day period during which a person is not legally required to provide medical proof of ill health can inevitably give rise to incidents of malingering and fake illness. However, by conducting a back to work interview, this can be used to cross reference the information contained in any self certification form. In this way, a pattern may begin to emerge of someone frequently pulling ‘sickies’, for which disciplinary proceedings may need to be instigated.

Equally, by monitoring information from self certification forms and back to work interviews combined, this may reveal a pattern of legitimate long-term illness or injury resulting in recurring absences for which reasonable adjustments may need to be made.


Need assistance?

Our employment law experts support employers with all aspects of sickness absence, including rules on self-certification and sick pay. Through our Triple A service, you can gain unlimited access to our legal experts for a fixed monthly fee. For advice or to find out more about Triple A, speak to us.


Self certification FAQs

What do you write on a self certificate?

When completing a self certificate in the context of sickness absence, a person should set out the reasons for their absence from work, with a brief description of their illness or injury, together with their sickness start and end dates.

Is a self certification form a legal requirement?

Self certification forms are not a strict legal requirement, where employers can either ask staff to complete a company pro forma or to simply send an email explaining in writing why they have been absent from work.

Last updated: 24 May 2022


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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