The Facts About Sick Leave in the UK

Most employees need to take time off work at some point during their working lives. It is a statutory requirement that employees’ employment contracts include terms relating to sickness absence, including terms relating to entitlement to sick pay. However, in order to fulfill the terms of their contracts, employees must make themselves aware of the facts surrounding sick leave.

Fit Notes and Self-Certification
Usually, employers will ask their employees to provide notification of their sickness as early as possible on the first day of their absence. The majority of employers allow self-certification for the first few days of sickness. Upon returning to work, employees will therefore be asked to complete self-certification forms to confirm that they have been off sick for less than seven days.

If they are unable to work due to sickness lasting for more than seven days, employees must provide a “fit note” from their doctor. A fit note can be provided either by a general physician or a hospital doctor. Fit notes are usually offered to patients free of charge. However, doctors have the right to request payment for fit notes detailing absences that have lasted less than seven days.

Sick Leave and Holiday Entitlement
Employees are legally entitled to build up statutory holiday entitlement while they are off work sick. Any statutory holiday entitlement that is not used up due to illness is able to be carried over into the following leave year.

Entitlement to Occupational Sick Pay
An employee’s entitlement to sick pay depends on whether or not their contract of employment includes a term that entitles them to pay during sickness absence. If such a term

is not included, an employee would only be entitled to receive statutory sick pay, subject to certain conditions. Employees who do not qualify for sick pay may choose to take holiday leave instead of sick leave.

Entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay
If their employer does not provide occupational sick pay, an employee may be entitled to statutory sick pay. However, to receive statutory sick pay, they must meet a range of conditions. For example, they must be off sick for four or more consecutive days, including days when they would not normally be expected to be in work, and must earn more than the Lower Earnings Limit for National Insurance Contributions.

Returning To Work Following Sickness
Employers are required to make “reasonable adjustments” to their employees’ working conditions if their employees become disabled as a result of sickness. These “reasonable adjustments” may include offering shorter working hours or adapting equipment in the workplace.

Entitlement to Time off For Medical Appointments

Employers are not legally required to provide their employees with time off for medical appointments. Entitlements to such time off are governed by individual contracts of employment. Some employers may require their employees to take annual leave or to take the time unpaid. Employees with disabilities that require them to attend regular medical check-ups may be covered under the Equality Act 2010, which requires employers to make “reasonable adjustments” to prevent their employees from becoming disadvantaged.

Long-Term Sickness
Employees who are off sick for more than four weeks may be considered to be long-term sick. As a last resort, employers can dismiss employees considered to be long-term sick, but before they can do this, they must consider whether or not their employees are able to return to work – e.g. by offering part-time employment or flexible working conditions or by providing them with the training that they require to move into different, less stressful job roles. Employers must also consult with their employees with regards to their health prospects. Employers may, with their employees’ consent, seek the opinion of a medical expert.

Sick leave is a sensitive issue that needs to be managed with care and attention. Employees who are worried about the impact of sickness absence can receive detailed advice from the JobCentre Plus, the Citizens Advice Bureau, or the DAS Instant Law Line.

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