An employer’s guide to sickness rights

31 Aug 2018 By Laura Kearsley

What are an employee’s rights at work when they fall ill, and what are an employer’s obligations? Laura Kearsley explains

The number of people ‘grinning and bearing it’ at work while ill has more than tripled since 2010. A recent report from the CIPD found that 86 per cent of 1,000 organisations surveyed had observed staff attending work while ill – compared to just 26 per cent eight years ago.

Sickness in the workplace is inevitable and your employees can’t help being ill from time to time. In the unfortunate event that a member of staff does fall ill and needs to take time off work, it is essential you are aware of their rights. 

How should employees be reporting their absence? 

It is important that employees report their illness in advance of the time they are due to start work. You should have a specific policy in employee contracts or handbooks setting a deadline and designated person who members of staff should call. 

What about time off for medical appointments? 

Once again, this should be set out in your handbook and contracts of employment. As an employer, you are not legally obliged to allow staff time off work for visits to the GP or dentist. You can require that employees attend these appointments outside work hours, take annual leave or make the time up later on. 

When do employees need to produce a note from their GP?

If an employee is ill for seven calendar days or more, they will need to supply a GP’s fit note as evidence of their illness. For absences of seven days or fewer, staff members can self-certify and employers may ask employees to complete a self-certification form on their return to work.

When is an employee entitled to sick pay? 

Those who are employed, earning at least £113 a week and who have been off work for four consecutive days are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). The current rate of SSP (February 2018) is £89.35 per week and can be paid for up to a maximum of 28 weeks for the days employees usually work. SSP is payable after three ‘waiting days’ of absence.

It is up to employers – and should be set out in contracts – whether they pay more than SSP and if they do, on what basis. For example, payment of full or half pay during sick leave might depend on whether an employee has passed their probationary period. 

Should I be contacting employees during sick leave? 

There is no rule that says an employer cannot contact an employee during a period of sick leave. Many employers genuinely care about the welfare of their staff and like to stay in touch on that basis. You may also want to be kept up to date on the likely period of absence so you can plan workflow and cover accordingly.

However, contact should be handled sensitively, particularly where someone is suffering from mental health problems or work-related stress and might find regular contact from their employer distressing. 

Where possible, it is a good idea to seek to agree on a level of contact during sick leave that is acceptable to both parties. 

Laura Kearsley is a partner in the employment team at Nelsons

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