Unfortunately, there are times when employees will be too sick to work. To prevent employees from spreading illness at a workplace or working much less productively, employees should have time off to recover.
Sick leave entitlement in the UK entails two different elements: time-off for recovery and sick pay.
Employees can take time off for recovery without requiring any confirmation from doctors. There is a limit to this time-off though.
This is a period of incapacity for work, which is the time that needs to be satisfied before SSP is payable. Lengthy amounts of time off for recovery can call for doctor’s notes or even classification of having a disability.
Sick pay encourages employees to take sick leave. Failing to receive sick pay encourages employees to work when sick. Sick pay can vary depending on an employee’s contract, though all employers must offer
Calculating sick leave depends on a variety of elements. These include the duration of the employee’s illness, whether it requires a doctor’s note, and the severity of the illness itself.
What is paid sick leave?
Employers pay statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks if the employee:
- Is classified as an employee of the employer
- Makes more than £120 a week on average, which is known as the lower earnings limit
- Has been ill for at least four days in a row, including non-working days. This also includes employees that have been self-isolating or ‘shielding’.
Usually, SSP is payable from day four of the absence onwards. However, if they are off due to COVID, they are entitled to receive it from day one of their absence. But they still need to have been off for at least three days, and can start being paid from day four.
There are different rules that apply to employees being sick on annual leave. If an employee is ill before requesting sick leave, employers can’t force employees to take annual leave.
Employees who are ill before taking annual leave should take it as
However, any holiday entitlement that is not used can carry over into the next annual period. This is if employees lose any holiday days due to an employee being ill.
Sick leave reasons list
There are a variety of valid reasons for taking sick leave. Employers must allow employees to take up to seven consecutive days off sick if necessary. These consecutive days include weekends.
This is the length of time that can pass for self-certification After this they need a doctor’s note.
Sick leave without a doctor’s note is self-certified sick leave. An employer will have to pay statutory sick pay if the employee is ill for four days or more. These four days must be consecutive and include non-working days.
Sick pay is paid from the fourth day. This day is the ‘qualifying day’. The previous three days are ‘waiting days.
The reasons cited for taking sick leave include:
- Sick with the flu
- Shielding or self-isolating due to COVID
- Severe migraine
- Crippling back pain
- Injury caused by accident
- Recovering from surgery
- Recovering from elective surgery
- Mental health issues, such as stress
Can an employee be dismissed while on sick leave?
An employee can be dismissed while on sick leave. Employers can do so if the employee has a persistent illness that makes it impossible for them to do their job.
Naturally, employers must follow fair capability and dismissal processes when considering the dismissal of an employee. Certain factors, such as risks of redundancies and financial difficulties, can make dismissal of an employee on sick leave valid and lawful.
Employers must look for ways to support an employee before dismissing them though. One example of this includes confirming whether the role itself is making an employee ill. Another is making adjustments or simply waiting a reasonable amount of time for an employee to recover.
A reasonable time includes the amount of time of recovery for an illness that isn’t considered a long-term illness. This reasonable time is up to seven consecutive days for employees calling in sick, or self-certifying. For any amount of time beyond this, an employee requires a ‘fit note’ from a doctor.
A fit note clarifies whether a medical professional deems an employee fit to work or unfit to work. The reasonable amount of time for recovery with a fit note that deems an employee unfit to work is four weeks.
However, this depends on the condition and a case-by-case basis. Especially if the condition becomes a long-term illness.
Long-term sick leave
If the reason for a prolonged sick leave is a long-term illness, the long-term illness may become classified as a disability.
In this case, employers must support employees under the Equality Act 2010. Even if the employee feels unsure that their long-term illness is a disability, the act may protect them.
The protections include making reasonable adjustments to a working environment.
Working during sick leave
When working for an employer, it is illegal to work while on sick leave. Sick leave should give an employee time to recover.
Employers should discourage employees from working while they are on sick leave. Unfortunately, many employees either try to hide any sickness or attempt to work while on sick leave.
This is particularly true during times such as the COVID pandemic.
However, without proper time to recover, an employee may remain unfit to work for longer. This means that neither the employee nor the employer benefits.
While it is illegal to work for an employer while on sick leave, there is precedent for working elsewhere while on sick leave. Only if the illness for one employer does not impact working for a different employer.
For example, someone too sick to work in a hospital may work and admin role from home.
The precedent was set in an Employment Appeal Tribunal for Perry v Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust EAT/0473/10. It stated that there was nothing stopping an employee deemed medically unfit from working one role from working elsewhere that they are fit to do.
Sick leave during a resignation period
During a resignation period or notice period, employees can take sick leave if they require it. They must receive their normal rate of pay or statutory sick pay.
An employer cannot end an employee’s employment early due to sick leave. The only way they can end employment early is with an agreed early termination.
However, employers are not required to pay out unused paid sick days after resignation.
Pregnancy sick leave
If an employee needs to take pregnancy-related sick leave, the employee can request statutory sick pay. They can do so until four weeks before the week of the due date, which will count as sickness before maternity leave.
However, employees can decide when to take maternity leave. Employers can start an employee’s maternity leave if they are sick with a pregnancy-related illness in the last four weeks before an expected week of childbirth.
Mental health sick leave
Employees can take time off as sick leave for mental health issues. These include:
Returning to work after sick leave
Once an employee returns to work, due to any reason, it is wise to meet with them. Meetings can range from informal to formal, depending on the amount of time taken.
For short-term sick leave, the meeting should include:
- Confirm that the employee is ready to return to work
- Ask if they require any support
- Discuss any updates that relate to their role or team
For long-term sick leave, the meeting should include:
- Confirm that the employee is ready to return to work
- Ask the employee and confirm with their doctor if they require any support or changes to their role
- Discuss any updates that relate to their role and team, as well as to the company as a whole
- Offer any required medical services or available employee assistance programmes
- Consider necessary steps for re-entering the workplace, such as making reasonable adjustments or phased working
Phased working after sick leave
After a serious illness or a lengthy recovery process, an employee may require phased working. Phased working aims to slowly re-introduce an employee into their role and may consist of:
- Change in duties or roles
- Less stressful duties or less of a workload
- Reduced hours
Naturally, any changes or alterations to an employee’s role will require consent from them.
How to handle sick leave entitlement
Both employers and employees can have trouble determining whether they have entitlement to sick leave or sick pay.
Employers have a responsibility to fairly accommodate employees during an illness. Whether it’s paying statutory sick pay or requiring additional measures for an employee with long-term illnesses.
The problem is determining how to handle employee illnesses on a case-by-case basis. Peninsula provides the support employers need to navigate employee sick leave entitlement properly.
Our services help treat employees with respect, without fear of evoking employment tribunals.