Calling in sick to work laws

  • Leave and Absence
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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What are the UK laws for staff calling in sick to work? It's more complicated than you might think, but we're here to help your business remain compliant.

It’s inevitable your employees will get sick from time to time. As a result, you’ll need (or already have) a sick days policy. This will explain the procedure employees must follow when sick—after all, you do want your staff to get in touch if they’re not coming in. You can make allowances for their absence (such as handing some of their duties to other staff members). But when they do call, what are you allowed to ask them? Let’s take a look.

Employee rights for calling in sick

As frustrating as it may be, your employees will call from time to time—whether you have a sick day policy or not. Some rest and relaxation is often the best way for your staff members to recover. It can see them back to normal faster than if they’re performing heroics and battling into work. Going to work sick laws don’t stop your staff from arriving ill. But if they’re dragging themselves in and struggling through the day (“presenteeism” as it’s now known), it only means they’re underperforming and delaying their recovery. Your employees can then also infect your other staff members triggering off more illness in your business—again, illness can affect your business’ productivity. But it’s still important to understand why your employee is off ill. As such, you’ll want to monitor absence levels. This can help you to:

  • Keep a record of sick days (as patterns may emerge, which you can then address).
  • Find out how much sick days are costing you (each month or year).
  • Monitor how it affects your other staff members.
  • See if your sickness policy needs updating.

The big question is: how do you know if your employee is really sick? It’s not uncommon to have a staff member miss work for trivial reasons. There’s always the chance of an unplanned hangover, a global sporting event that disrupts your schedule, or a pressing family issue.

Calling in sick to work laws (UK)

Sick leave is more complicated than simply expecting employees to return as soon as possible. Your calling in sick policy should, as a result, be adapted to consider this. So when an employee phones in, you should treat them with respect. There’s the real possibility they’re facing an emergency. Sickness handling is an important part of your business procedure, so ensure you take everyone seriously. But you can also get to the bottom of their issues. It’s good business practice to have a range of questions ready that you can ask your employee. Even if they consider it an invasion of privacy, you can still ask them what’s wrong. Some of the questions you can ask include:

  • “What are your symptoms?”
  • “Have you been to see your doctor/booked in to see your doctor?”
  • “When are you expecting to return to work?”
  • “Which of your tasks can other staff members pick up?”

If your employee is absent for longer than a week, you can expect a doctor’s note to support their claims. You can make this clear in your sick note rules. For anyone with an absence of fewer than seven days, you can ask your employee to fill out a self-certification (SC2) form. But more sensitive and private information about your employee’s illness isn’t included with the note.

Fake sickness

If you have reason to believe the employee is faking their sickness, you should address this when they come back. Hold a return to work meeting to discuss the absence, if there still is cause to believe they're lying then you can take the appropriate action. This may include disciplinary action if you think it’s a serious breach of your regulations. Remember, too, that if your employee has a second job and is phoning in sick to attend that, then this is gross misconduct.

Do you have to pay employees for sick days?

On a final note, you should also consider sick pay law. Have a look at our Statutory Sick Pay guide for help. You have to pay SSP under the law to a sick employee. There's a legal right to claim SSP, but you may want to offer additional company pay on top of this. SSP offers the minimum amount for employees, but there are also other options you can consider.

Get more help on phoning in sick laws

We can improve your calling in sick to work policy. Call us today on: 0800 028 2420.


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