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Things you should know if you’re worried sick when off work with an illness

Published 21 May 2018

Being off work sick can be difficult time for any employee and knowing what to expect from your employer can be an added worry.

Phoning in work sick is always a difficult call to make and employees will understandably be concerned about the reaction, what will happen and what they will get paid.

It is crucial to know your rights when you are off sick as it was revealed last year that some employers are tricking people out of sick pay (1).

When off work as a result of illness it can be uncertain time for an employee, and leave them asking at least four key questions.

Do I have a right to company sick pay?

You do not have a statutory right to company sick pay, which is paid at an employer’s discretion.

The employment contract will spell out what your rights are to company sick pay, which will usually be paid for a stipulated period of time. Typical company sick pay schemes will usually apply after a minimum period of service.

Such schemes are likely to pay your full wages for a number of weeks or months. After this it may be reduced to half-pay for a specified period after which it then becomes unpaid.

Regardless of what is in the employment contract you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) (2). There are some employees who are not entitled to SSP and this includes those hired for less than three months and pregnant workers who are sick during the maternity pay period.

The current weekly amount of SSP is £92.05 – you cannot be paid less than the statutory amount - and it is paid by the employer for up to 28 weeks.

What evidence of my illness do I need to provide to my employer.

For a sickness absence that lasts up to seven days you should only be asked to self-certify your illness (3). This will typically mean filling in a form and providing details about the nature of the illness and when it started and finished.

For an illness that lasts longer than seven days you will have to provide evidence of this in the form of a doctor’s ‘fit note,’ which up until 2010 was formerly called a sick note (4). The note will record details of the functional effects of your condition, which can help your employer to consider ways it may be able to help your return to work.

Should I expect to be contacted by my employer while I am signed off work sick?

The answer is yes, as this can be considered reasonable and fitting management. Some employees, certainly those on long-term sick leave, can feel vulnerable and an employer keeping in touch can help to avoid any feelings of isolation.

The level of any such contact should be carefully considered. In some cases, for example if you are off with depression, anxiety or stress which may be work related contact may exacerbate the symptoms.

Can my employer dismiss me because of my illness?

Yes it can, but it will have to be able to show that it has taken all essential steps to correctly discover the state of your health and prognosis (5). The employer will also have to follow a fair dismissal process in order to avoid a claim for unfair dismissal or disability discrimination depending on the nature of the illness.

To protect it against any such claims your employer will usually consult with your GP and medical advisors and its occupational health advisors and gather reports. The reports will provide guidance and recommendations on any reasonable adjustments to working arrangements, which can be made to help you.

If dismissal is being considered you do have rights and if you disagree with any decision you should seek advice and challenge it. Details of what will happen in situations such as this will be documented in relevant company policies.

References

1.Employers tricking people out of sick pay, says Citizens Advice [Internet]. [cited 2018 May 19]. Available from: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/how-citizens-advice-works/media/press-releases/employers-tricking-people-out-of-sick-pay-says-citizens-advice/

2.Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2018 May 19]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay

3.Self-certification [Internet]. Fit For Work. 2017 [cited 2018 May 19]. Available from: https://fitforwork.org/blog/self-certification/

4.“Fit notes” to replace sick notes. 2010 Apr 5 [cited 2018 May 20]; Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8599354.stm

5.Dismissing staff: Dismissals due to illness [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2018 May 20]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/dismiss-staff/dismissals-due-to-illness

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