Sick leave guide

16 July 2020

As an employer, you’ll inevitably have to deal with employees needing time off due to sickness. 

You can outline your approach to this in your sickness absence policy, but to understand the finer details this guide explains the current UK employment laws

However, now due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may have additional concerns in the event of infection in the workplace. You can call us on 0800 028 2420 for assistance—we also have support for your business about reopening.

You can also read on for insights into what you need to do if your employee is off due to illness.

What’s the process for sick leave in the UK?

Employees can take time off work due to illness. They should notify you of their need to take time off, as well as how they’re progressing. And they’ll need to provide you with proof if they’re off for more than seven days. 

They can do this with a sick note (sometimes called a “fit note”). They can get this from their GP or a specialist from a hospital. 

So, as an employer, there’s a fine line to tread between “punishing employees for being sick” and being lenient on those who fancy a day off now and again.

Your staff can take sick leave. But you can determine how many days off they can have due to illness during a working year. 

And whether or not they’ll receive pay for this time off. As a business, you’ll need to provide them with SSP if they’re eligible.

This opens up the debate on paid VS unpaid sick leave. Your business can choose to not pay staff and save on the resources. 

However, many employees see it as a sign of support if they’re sick. It can help to reduce stress and speed up their return to full fitness, that’s if they feel they can take time off work with financial support. 

If they come into work regardless (presenteeism), this can delay their recovery. And, worse, infect other members of staff. Which can lead to more sick days. 

Taking annual leave after sick leave

Employees may also ask, “Can you take annual leave instead of sick leave?” or, “Can you go abroad when on sick leave?” Yes, they can take annual leave if they’re on holiday. 

For example, if they can’t attend work as they’re too ill, but are well enough to take holiday time, then this can assist them.

This is especially true if your business has mental health days, in which a staff member can take sudden annual leave to help them with a mental health condition.

Holiday pay for sick leave can be beneficial for an employee if they want to enjoy their time off and fully recuperate. 

However, going on holiday while on sick leave isn’t something you can force your employees to do. It’s their choice, so you mustn’t pressure them to do so. 

Does annual leave accrue on sick leave?

Yes, statutory holiday entitlement continues to build up if an individual is off work sick. 

Your employees’ sickness notification requirements

Staff members also have responsibilities when taking sick leave. You can set rules regarding the notification of sickness absence, as there’s no statutory law in place for guidance.

So, you should set a clear policy that outlines the accepted forms of communication and timeframes. 

It’s important to remember that, while you have the freedom to set a general policy, there are some set rules for the notification of absence that apply for the purposes of statutory sick pay (SSP) entitlement. 

While you may be able to assert an employee has breached rules regarding notification of sickness for disciplinary purposes, you may not be able to withhold payment of SSP for that period.

But setting in-house rules is good business practice. These are your rules, so staff must adhere to them. But it’s also important to train them about your notification of absence from work process. 

So, you should develop your sickness absence policy. There are three steps to this you must consider:

  1. How: Decide on the notice of sickness to employer While some employers may feel a text message or email is sufficient. Although this can promote false sick days. For thorough absence management processes, you can use a requirement for the employee to speak to a manager. This is more likely to stop non-genuine absence. 
  2. When: To ensure you can cover an employee’s absence, it’s worth dictating a timeframe for sickness notification. For jobs carried out during “normal” working hours, an hour before start time will generally be sufficient. However, atypical hours may require different rules. And education establishments usually require notification before the end of school on the previous day.
  3. Who: Think about which employees need to make the communication. Do you require the employee to call in, or is it acceptable for the message to be conveyed by someone else? In most cases, there should be no reason the employee can’t make contact. But you could include some leeway for extenuating circumstances. For example, if the employee is in hospital so can’t make personal contact.

Setting these rules will help you to manage staff absences better. As well as provide clear guidance to employees so they understand the procedures they should follow if they’re unable to attend work due to illness.

How long can you be on sick leave?

Employees can remain off work for seven days or less. In total, staff have 28 weeks of statutory sick pay (SSP). This is £95.85 per week. 

If their illness lasts for longer than this, then it’s a long-term sickness. Employees are usually classed as “long-term sick” if they’re off ill for four weeks or longer.

In your sickness absence policy, you should establish what your definition for this is. But you need to apply the same approach for every employee to ensure you’re fair with your process. 

You should have a procedure that ensures the health and wellbeing of staff, but that also supports your business and ensures you maintain productivity. So, you can:

  • Set up a way for staff to keep in touch with you and provide updates on their condition. 
  • If they’re looking to return, use procedures such as a phased return to ease them properly back into working life. 
  • Update your workforce of changes(while considering confidential information) so they’re aware of what’s happening.
  • Making reasonable adjustments to your workplace for employees—if necessary. If the reason for absence is due to disability, the Equality Act 2010 requires you to take these steps to enable the employee to perform their role.

What happens with sick leave during coronavirus?

During the pandemic, your employees may need to self-isolate and take time off work if:

  • They contract the virus and need to recover. 
  • They have symptoms. 
  • Someone in their household catches the virus, so they must self-isolate. 
  • They must shield due to an underlying health condition.
  • A doctor informs them they must self-isolate. 
  • The government informs them they must self-isolate by a “test and trace” service. 

But can employers claim back sick pay during coronavirus? Yes, there’s the statutory pay rebate scheme. 

You can make a claim for the coronavirus SSP rebate scheme on the UK government’s site. You may be eligible to claim a maximum of two weeks worth of SSP employer rebate. 

It works as you might expect, you can claim SSP paid to employees during COVID-19. If you want, you can also offer staff contractual sick pay.

How to calculate sick leave

To do this, you can use the following calculation—divide the number of qualifying days in a week and multiply this by the number of days an employee has entitlements to. 

The weekly SSP rate is £95.85. So, if an employee was on sick leave for seven days (four of them will receive SSP) then the calculation is:

  • £95.85 / 7 = £13.69 SSP daily. And then £13.69 x four days, which is £54.76 SSP. 

Remember, SSP is a legal requirement for you as an employer. So you must follow this process. 

Asking employees to self-certify

As part of your sickness absence policy, you can request staff to complete self-certified sick leave

This is a form they must fill out to detail information about their illness or injury. 

If a member of staff is off sick for seven days or more, they can fill out this form. And then they won’t need a doctor’s note. 

You should ask an employee to fill one of these out for every day of sickness, which they can download online from the HMRC site (employee’s statement of sickness-SC2). 

Need our help?

If you need assistance with establishing your sickness policy, or dealing with employees on sick leave, get in touch for support: 0800 028 2420

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