Employees took 180 million sick days last year, averaging 6.4 days each, according to the latest CBI/Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey.
This article will look at the issues around sickness absence and pay.
Employees are entitled to receive within two months of starting employment a written statement of their main terms and conditions of employment which should set out what is expected of an employee who is absent from work through sickness and any entitlement to contractual sick pay. For example, it should detail how employees should give notice of sickness, etc.
Statutory sick pay (SSP) is the minimum amount employers must pay to employees who are off work because of illness, disability, industrial injury or disease, investigation of possible illness/disease, or are by law prevented from working in order to prevent the spread of certain infectious diseases. SSP is paid for up to 28 weeks in any period of incapacity for work. A period of incapacity for work is either a continuous spell of sickness of at least four calendar days or different spells of sickness of at least four calendar days which are not more than eight weeks apart. It starts on the first day of sickness, even if this is a Sunday or public holiday. No SSP is payable for the first three qualifying days in a period of incapacity for work. These are known as waiting days. However, if the employee has a second spell of sickness within eight weeks they will not have to repeat the three waiting days before getting SSP again. Only complete days of sickness count for SSP.
SSP is only paid for qualifying days. These are usually the days the employee would have worked if they had not been off sick. SSP will be paid from the first qualifying day after the three waiting days. SSP is paid for as long as the employee is off sick, up to a maximum of 28 weeks. These 28 weeks of SSP may be spread over a longer period if an employee has repeated bouts of sickness and returns to work in between. If the bouts of sickness are of four or more days in a row and not more than eight weeks apart, they count together as one period of incapacity for work and the employee does not have to wait three days to claim SSP again. When SSP ends, an employee who is still off sick can claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Employees will qualify for SSP if they are sick for four days in a row and have average gross weekly earnings of at least as much as the national insurance lower earnings limit (currently £97). All employers regardless of size should pay SSP to employees who qualify. Part time employees may also qualify for SSP providing they meet the required earnings level. SSP is currently set at £79.15 per full week.
The employer can require notification of absence either from the first qualifying day of sickness or after a certain number of days. It is up to the employer to make these rules or agree them with, for example, a trade union. The rules must be notified to employees in advance. If the employer does not have any rules then they must accept notification in writing from the employee if it is sent within seven days of the first qualifying day in the spell of sickness.
During the first seven days of sickness, the employer must not ask the employee for a medical certificate. After the first seven days, the employer can, if they wish, ask for a medical certificate from a doctor (sick note). Since 6 April 2010, sick notes have been replaced by a Statement of fitness for work (Med 3 04/10). This form allows a doctor to say that an employee may be fit for work, with suitable support from the employer, rather than saying they are either fit or not fit to resume their normal job.
Further information on sickness absence notification and SSP are available from your local CAB or from the Labour Relations Agency on 028 9032 1442 or 028 7126 9639.
Siobhan Harding is an Information & Policy Officer with Citizens Advice