How does a business thrive if its staff are sick, quarantining or sat on long NHS waiting lists, as employers may clearly want to support its employees but it also has to juggle the business needs. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, personal health and wellbeing have become the key concerns to employees and employers alike. On one hand, anyone can get sick although they may not want or expect it, or even if they try to avoid it. On the other hand, businesses always want to minimize disruption to their operations, including as a result of sickness absence, but are also aware of retention and recruitment costs and issues.
Employees can take time off when they feel unwell to work. They should report this to their employer (typically your line manager or the HR department) and/or check the sickness absence policy on how it should be notified to them (normally at least one hour before the normal start time). If staff are ill for a short period (for example, up to a week), the employer may require simply they are kept updated during and complete a form when they return to work (self-certification).
Subject to the employment contract and staff handbook part of this time could be contractual or statutory sick pay can be recovered and it is advisable to check these documents. If an employee is not entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP), they may need to use paid holiday for the time off work sick, unless the employer agrees otherwise. Hence, it is always worth confirming how long you can stay off sick, and whether and how much you will get paid so that there is transparency between you.
To qualify for SSP, you need to: be classed as an ‘employee’ (which may include agency workers) and have done some work for your employer; earn an average of at least £123 per week; and have been ill for at least 4 days in a row.
If entitled to SSP, staff members can take time off work without using paid holiday and be paid at least £99.35 per week by the employer for up to 28 weeks. It should always be confirmed the amount and duration of SSP with the employer so there is no confusion. Some contracts and employers also entitle staff or certain staff to additional sick pay under the employment contract or a company’s sick pay or occupational scheme.
However, you may not be able to get SSP if you have received the maximum amount of SSP for your sickness absence, if you have a continuous series of linked periods of sickness absence that lasts more than three years, or you are getting statutory maternity pay. You should also check your employment contract and relevant company’s policy if there is any exception for contractual sick pay.
To claim for SSP, you must normally tell your employer that want to take sick leave before the deadline set by them (or within seven days if they have not set one), otherwise you may lose some of your SSP entitlement (unless there is a good reason).
If you are ill for more than seven days in a row (including weekends and bank holidays), you will also need to provide a ‘Fit Note’ which are normally obtained from a doctor. There are recently new guidelines that allow a Fit Note to be given by nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and physiotherapists to create more flexibility to employees. Further, employer may also accept other documents (such as AHP Health and Work Report).
On the note, it will say that you either are not fit for work or may be fit for work. If you are deemed ‘may be fit for work’, it may suggest the type of work you may be able to do, or changes to your current working conditions. If your employer cannot accommodate such recommendations, you can carry on getting sick pay. As such consider whether you can work at home or in a different role during this time.
Your SSP and contractual sick pay (if any) are normally paid in the same way as your normal wages, and they may be deducted for taxes and National Insurance. You should contact your employer immediately if you disagree with their decision to not pay you sick leave or if you sick pay is wrong.
Employers should not and cannot use tactics to get out of paying SSP, such as cancelling shifts after employees call in sick, reducing employees’ wages, or refusing to fill in a HMRC sick pay form. This is unlawful and can give rise to claims for contractual variations, unfair dismissal and more.
Termination due to sickness
Generally, employer cannot fire you because you are sick so that they do not have to pay SSP because it may be automatically unfair dismissal and possibly breach of contract.
In case of an employee who is subject to long-term sickness (more than 4 weeks), the employer will need to consult with the employee about their health and whether they can return to work, and consider whether the employer can accommodate any changes to their working conditions. If the sickness is a disability greater care and attention will be required to comply with the Equality Act .Employers should have a clear policy on circumstances where employees may be dismissed due to long-term illness as employee can take their case to an employment tribunal if they think they have been unfairly dismissed for taking sick leave. Reasonable adjustments must be considered if the sickness relates to a disability , if the employer unsure a referral for medical information and advice would be recommended.
Health Care Benefits
More employers are considering private health care packages , including booking private doctor’s over an App , like Babylon. This reduces the time employees must wait to see their GP or consultants and receive a diagnosis or treatment. Advice on supporting the employee can be given quicker to get them back to work quicker and safer and avoid potentially missing the fact the illness is actually a disability and reasonable adjustments maybe needed. It is also a way to show commitment to staff in itself a good motivator to stay employed by the company.
Long Covid 19
Case law was moving towards this becoming a disability protected by the Equality Act and this summer Tribunal cases are setting the precdents. If you establish you have long-covid19 symptoms , its lasting and preventing you from performing normal duties, like work, reasonable adjustments will be required and once you have informed your employer you cannot be dismissed on this basis. This will continue to evolve , we have no doubt about it, which will hopefully create further guidance for employers and employees
When you are sick, you should let your employer know immediately if you want to take sick leave. You may be asked to provide a self-certification form or a Fit Note depending on your sickness absence.
You should check your contract, the company’s policy and confirm with your employer about your entitlement relating to sickness.
If you are denied sick pay or treated less favourably by your employer whilst off sick seek advice