Sickness Leave, Sick Pay and SSP

Sickness LeaveAs an employee you will be allowed to take time off work for sickness or illness, though certain steps will generally need to be taken to ensure the legitimacy of your sick leave.

Informing your manager

If you feel that you need to take time off due to illness, you must contact your manager beforehand (generally within an hour of your normal start time unless specified in your contract) to explain both the reason for your absence, and when you expect to be returning to work.

Explaining your illness

You will always need to explain your sickness to your employer, though different rules apply depending on how long you have been off work. If your absence due to illness lasts up to seven days, you may be asked by your employer to fill in a self-certification form stating your illness. Many employees will have their own self-certification form, or an employee might instead use an Employee's Statement of Sickness form, either way the result and purpose is the same.

An employee who has taken more than seven days off for illness will be required to provide the employer with an official Statement of Fitness to Work from their GP or relevant doctor. This Statement (also known as a 'fit note') will contain more specific information with regard to how the sickness or illness affects the employee's ability to work, as well as steps they may take to ensure a swift return to normal duty.

Employer's discretion

While many companies will have sick pay schemes in place, with various regulations and criteria to be met in order for the employee to receive whatever level of pay is offered in the event of sick leave, ultimately it is up to the discretion of the employer.

An employer may refuse to give sick pay if they deem the reasons for absence to be unsatisfactory after careful consideration of the Equality Act 2010, ensuring that the decision is free from any prejudice or discrimination. 

As well as refusing pay, an employer can also give pay to an employee when said employee does not technically qualify under the company's sick pay scheme. This is called 'discretionary sick pay', and it is worth noting that receipt of this discretionary pay in one instance does not entail its receipt in the future. It is sometimes the case though, that through custom and practice, it can become part of your contract.

Returning to work

Following a period of absence due to illness, the employer is required to speak with the employee, conducting an informal assessment with a view to welcoming the employee back and assessing their fitness and ability to resume their normal duties, as well as offering any support necessary for rehabilitation. During this informal meeting, the employee must also be informed of any changes to the workplace and its functioning, and, if the sickness was related to work, some alternative solution should be found so as to avoid future injury or illness.

Long-term sickness leave

An employee stricken with a long-term illness may still be entitled to leave on the conditions that they regularly report to the employer, updating them on the situation; and that they arrange a Return to Work interview upon returning to good enough health. It is also important for the employee to be absolutely clear on the terms of the company's sick pay scheme, in order to know exactly what they are entitled to.

When the employee does return to work, the employer is encouraged to implement a rehabilitation programme, helping the employee settle back in smoothly. Such a programme generally includes an offer of more flexible working hours and updates on any changes to duties or the working environment. This programme will be similar to the standard return to work procedure though naturally slightly more involved, accommodating for the significant amount of time taken off work.

Losing your job while on long-term sickness leave

Employers reserve the right to dismiss an employee on long-term sickness leave though only as a last resort, having already considered the following:

  • Offering more flexible hours and/or a slightly reduced workload
  • The extent of the employee's expected recovery and any assistance necessary during the recovery
  • The ability of the employee to restore standard practice upon recovery.

If you have been dismissed as a result of long-term sickness leave and you feel that alternatives to dismissal were not properly considered, then you may have a case for unfair dismissal which can be taken to an Employment Tribunal.

Sick pay

Anyone taking time off work because of illness is likely to be entitled to sick pay at a minimum of £86.70 per week. This minimum level constitutes Statutory Sick Pay, though often employers will have their own company sick pay scheme which may offer slightly more than (but must offer at least the same as) the legal minimum. 

The level of sick pay offered by your employer, whether it is at the statutory level or at an increased level offered as part of a company sick pay scheme, will be stated in written form generally in either your statement or contract of employment.

Company sick pay

Each company sick pay scheme is different, changing from workplace to workplace, but what is common throughout is the general minimum of three months service before an employee can claim sick pay from such a scheme. The way these schemes tend to work is that an employee taking time off due to illness will receive full payment during the absence for a certain number of weeks. After this there is generally a period during which half-pay is awarded to the employee, and finally after this is a period where all leave is unpaid.

Note here that you may be contractually entitled to leave if it is to care for a sick dependant, but unless explicitly stated by the employer, this leave does not have to be paid at all.

Work-related sickness 

Certain employers will also run schemes for those affected by illness or injuries that occur in the workplace. Again, details of such a scheme will be given to you in written form by your employer if this is the case.

If you sustain an injury of any sort, including psychological harm (eg depression or stress), for which your employer is responsible, then you may be in a position to make a personal injury claim. In these situations it is worth getting in touch with either a solicitor or a union representative.

Problems receiving sick pay

If you have received what seems to be below the appropriate amount for sick pay, or indeed received nothing at all, then first:

  • Check your rights regarding Statutory Sick Pay
  • Check your contract to see how much you are actually entitled to
  • Attempt to solve the problem by talking with your employer, both to check if there has been a problem, and if not, to voice any relevant grievances.

If it turns out that your employer has underpaid you during sick leave, then they are guilty of 'Unlawful deduction of wages', and you are in a position to take the claim to an Employment Tribunal.

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