Cosmetic surgery: A right to paid sick leave?

Kevin Bennett

August 16 2019

Absence through illness is inevitable for every employer and employee. It might be the winter flu, a migraine or a common cold. There’s little we can do about it when it comes along.

However, there are a few exceptions. Elective, or cosmetic surgery, for example, is on the rise. And when an employee prepares to go under the knife, you might have a HR issue on your hands.

Need vs want

Not every cosmetic procedure is the same. People make a decision based on either health or personal reasons. For instance, a doctor will tell their patient they need a specific procedure. In this case, the surgery qualifies as sick leave. Whether it’s paid or unpaid is up to you, their employer.

Surgery by personal choice is a little trickier. It’s elective surgery. There’s no legal right to time off following the surgery, but once again, that’s at your discretion. The problem is that the employee won’t be fit for work post-procedure. In such cases, the employee’s entitled to statutory sick pay, even though their ‘ill health’ is self-induced. Why? Because they’re unable to perform the tasks stated in their contract of employment as expected.

As their employer, it’s up to you whether to top up their statutory sick pay or not. However, you should include this in employee’ contracts for clarity and cover.

There are exceptions of course that you may need to adapt to. An employee might suffer from depression as a result of a physical issue, or need surgery due to an accident. These incidents should be treated with care.

Contractual or statutory paid sick leave: Does surgery cut it?

This remains a contentious area. Although covered above, self-induced ill health isn’t the only factor in determining the employee’s right to paid sick leave.

Seeing as how cosmetic surgery is still somewhat new to Northern Ireland, the topic doesn’t appear in many employee contracts. They may be entitled to statutory sick pay, but unless stated otherwise in their contract or your sick pay scheme, not contractual sick pay. If cosmetic surgery isn’t covered in any policy, you’ll have to make your decision based on their request.

If you’re going to do that, a little preparation goes a long way…

Policy preparations

You need to be consistent in your decision making surrounding surgery. Remember, while not every procedure will be the same, your employees will expect equal, fair treatment. To cover yourself from the outset, devise your own ‘surgery leave’ policy. You can include this is contracts or the employee handbook, and in-turn your decisions will be consistent.

For more information on paid sick leave, we have a Sick Pay Entitlements blog that’s simple to follow.

Have further questions concerning sick leave around surgery? Call one of our HR experts on 0800 917 0771 or fill in a contact form here.

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